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 understanding
GRIEF
Supporting those in grief can be a challenging process. For most of us it is outside of our normal experience but something we want to do to the best of our ability for the benefit of someone important to us. It can become easier to help when we understand a little bit about how grief affects people and the kind of support they need.
LISTEN WITH YOUR HEART
Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Particularly in the days following a death, words will often be forgotten but your presence and attention will not. Focus on listening to their words that are being shared with you. While they may seek your help with something, most often they simply need to share their thoughts and feelings with a sympathetic ear in a safe environment.
BE COMPASSIONATE
Give your friend permission to express their feelings safely and without fear of criticism. Allow yourself to learn from them about how they are being affected and what they need. Don’t ‘instruct’ them on how they should grieve or set expectations about appropriate responses or timelines. While you may have experienced your own losses and feel great empathy, resist the urge to say things like “I know just how you feel.” Just like yours was, their experience is unique.
AVOID CLICHÉS
In our well-intentioned search for ‘just the right words’ to express our sympathy and caring, we often fall back on some tried and true expressions. Comments like “you are holding up so well,” “time heals all wounds,” or “think of all you still have to be thankful for,” easily come to mind as we seek that elusive but non-existent perfect expression of our feelings. Unfortunately these clichés tend to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities and they are not constructive. They can make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult. “I’ll always remember her,” “I will miss him too,” or simply “I’m sorry” acknowledge the loss without trying to ‘fix’ it.
OFFER PRACTICAL HELP
As discussed in an earlier section while you can’t ‘fix’ the pain of loss there are often things you can do that can help alleviate some of the stress that can make it worse. Practical tasks like child care, preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house, or answering the telephone are just a few of the hands-on ways you can show you care. This type of help can have the additional benefit of allowing those of us outside of the inner-circle of mourners to work through our own grief by ‘expressing’ our love and support.
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