Posts tagged “How to help bereaved loved ones”

To say that people are uncomfortable with emotions such as sadness, rage or fear – especially after a personal loss – is an understatement. 
 
Sit back for a moment and think about the times in your life when you were feeling sad and tried to talk about those feelings with others. On a few occasions your friend or family member may have simply listened without analysis, criticism or judgement. More often than not, however, you may have received one of the following responses:- 
If you’ve experienced a major bereavement, then I’m sure you’ll have discovered that your feelings are unlike  
anything else you have experienced. You may also have discovered that it feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced before because all relationships are unique and therefore your grief is just as unique as you & your relationship are. 
 
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people being told that they are 
Young Widow Quote "things are hard enough without others making you feel it's wrong to want to be alone and want you to make more effort"
 
When I was widowed at the age of 40 I found out just how unprepared most people are when it comes to loss. Why is it so difficult? It’s not as if it’s unexpected, after all illness, pain, death are part of the human condition so surely with all that experience around we should learn the right thing to say? Well no, clearly not and because we’re not taught what to say we don’t teach our children what to say and the cycle of complete inadequacy continues. 
 
When I posted on this topic on an internet forum for widows the thread was inundated with examples of crassness and I vowed to write a book on the topic – there clearly is a need for education out there! Well that’s still a work in progress but in the meantime here’s my top five what not to say and if it stops a few people inserting their feet in to their mouths then great. 
 
By the way this list is on no particular order – what’s most offensive to me may seem mild to someone else – just play safe and avoid all of them! 
A question we often get asked is “should I take my young child to a funeral?” At Grief Recovery, we believe that all feelings are normal and natural including sad or painful ones so it would be easy to say “yes of course”. The real question is whether your child is old enough to hang around relatively quietly while the adults do what they must do. If they can do that then yes, they should go. 
Crucially before that happens the child needs to know what to expect and what your expectations are of them so you’ll need to do some explaining before the event: 
Many of us struggle to know what to say when someone has been bereaved, but at least with the card you’ve time to think about it so it’s easier right? Wrong! If you’ve ever sat with a blank card in front of you then you’ll know that actually the sight of that little white space can be quite daunting. 
 
Here’s my mini guide for How to write a sympathy card or similar. This article has now been turned into a leaflet - you can get free copies here 
 
Do 
 
Write it out on rough paper first. Even if you think you know what to say putting it down on paper first will help you realise if it looks OK written down and if it will fit in the space available. If it doesn’t fit include a note with the card as well. 
 
Read it aloud from your rough draft – sometimes what seems good in your head doesn’t work when read by another. Hearing it aloud can help you work out why not. 
 
Write from the heart. If you tell the truth about how you feel this will come across. 
I often get asked about what to say to children who have experienced loss so I thought it would be helpful to put some helpful hints and tips here passed to me by John W James and Russell Friedman. 
 
Do Go First. As the adult you’re the leader. 
 
Do Tell the Truth about how you feel. Telling the truth about your own grief and about how you feel will establish a tone of trust and make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings. 
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