Helpers often ask questions such as: "What should I do? What should I say? Am I doing the right thing? Did I do the wrong thing?" Here are some suggestions for how to best help those in grief.
1) Do give grievers the permission to grieve. You do this by your presence, understanding and acceptance of where they are.
2) Do expect volatile reactions from the bereaved. Those in grief are on an emotional roller coaster.
3) Do be "present" to the bereaved. Give the griever your full attention as they share their loss with you. It is so very meaningful to them and therapeutic as well.
4) Do view the loss from the griever's perspective. Their loss is unique and their pain is their own. You cannot know their loss without viewing it from their perspective.
5) Do maintain an appropriate emotional distance from the griever. Do not make their loss your loss.
6) Do encourage verbalization of feelings and memories of the deceased. Talking about the one who died is therapeutic for those suffering grief. It helps them process their loss and begin to formulate perspective.
7) Do help the bereaved recognize and accept the loss.
8) Do listen non-judgmentally and with acceptance.
9) Do allow the grieved to cry, talk, and review without interruption.
10) Do help the griever with normative data about the grief process. Assure the grieved that they are not "crazy" and that what they are experiencing is all a part of the grief process.
11) Do help the griever with practical responsibilities (grocery shopping, take the children for a couple of hours, drive to the bank, make phone calls, etc.).
12) Do help the griever understand the need to develop a new relationship with the deceased.
13) Do be informed about grief and providing gentle compassionate care.
14) Do be helpful and keep in touch.
15) Do encourage healing.
16) Do encourage counseling if behaviors appear pathological or extreme.
17) Do be aware that weekends, holidays and evenings may be more difficult for the bereaved.
18) Do help the bereaved avoid unrealistic expectations as to how they "should" feel and when they will be better. It is helpful when appropriate to say, "I don't know how you are able to do as well as you are."
19) Do ask griever to accompany you on some outing or engage in some activities with you (at appropriate time of course).
20) Do encourage grievers to participate in support groups.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: A Grief Healing Workbook, will be available soon.