Grief is a normal, natural process that takes place after the death of a loved one.
Grief may be expressed by tears, anger and overt sadness – or by withdrawal, depression and extreme fatigue. The difference is dependent upon both personality and circumstances. Understand that your bereaved friend may even switch between these different expressions of grief. You can reassure them that it’s okay to show their grief, whichever way they choose. There is no right or wrong way.
Please remember immediately after the death of a loved one, numbness may protect us from the full pain. The more devastating realization of the loss may come much later. Often, this is at a point when friends have themselves adjusted to the shock, and may be starting to expect their bereaved friend to be “getting over it”. Understand there are no time limits to grief — your friend may need support from you more than ever as time passes.
How can I help?
Those who have experienced the death of a child often find their world upside down. Life itself seems pointless and unfair — and concerns that might have been of importance before no longer seem to hold any meaning.
For those of us whose lives touch the bereaved, this can also be a very difficult time. We hardly know what to say or do. Feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and discomfort are common and often cause us to make conversation which is not always comforting.
We need to understand that there is no “right” response and that the only way to take the pain away would be to bring the dead child back to life.
It helps to remember that bereaved parents and siblings find it important to talk about their child who has died. While this conversation may cause tears, it will actually ease their pain.
Listening and being there for bereaved parent or sibling may give greater comfort than anything you could say.
Do’s and Don’ts
Bereaved parents and siblings ask that you try to put yourself in their position before you speak and then you may respond in a different way. Here are some helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” that you may wish to use when talking with the bereaved.
- Let your genuine concern and caring show.
Be available. Listen, run errands, help with surviving children, provide food for out of town mourners, or whatever you perceive as needed at the time.
- Tell the family how sorry you are about the child’s death and about the pain they must be feeling.
- Allow them to express as much grief as they are able and are willing to share with you.
- Encourage them to be patient with themselves, not to expect too much of themselves too soon.
- Let them talk about the child and how they feel about the death, as often as they want.
- Talk about your memories of the child and the special qualities that made that child endearing.
- Give special attention to surviving brothers and sisters at the funeral and in the months to come. Their parents may not be able to give them as much as they would like to during the early phases of grief.
- Reassure them that they did everything that was possible, that the medical care was the best or whatever you know to be true and positive about the care given to their child.
- Let your own sense of helplessness and inadequacy keep you from reaching out to a bereaved parent.
- Avoid them because you are uncomfortable and unable to cope with your own feelings about death.
- Say, “I know how you feel” unless you do.
- Say “you should be coping better by now” or anything else which may appear judgmental about their progress in grieving.
- Tell them what they should feel or do.
- Change the subject when they talk about their dead child. Let them decide when to change the subject.
- Avoid mentioning the child’s name. The parents haven’t forgotten the death and your mentioning the child will bring up positive memories.
- Look for some moral lesson or something positive in the situation.
- Say they can always have other children. Even if they wanted to and could, another child does not replace the child they’ve lost. And please don’t suggest that they should be grateful for their own children. Grief over the loss of one child does not discount parent’s love and appreciation of their living children.
Offer to be a friend. Deal with the grieving individual gently and positively. Recognize that grieving has no time limit and varies from individual to individual both in the way they express their grief and the time required to stabilize.
Don’t let your friends, family or co-worker grieve alone. There is a tremendous sense of isolation and abandonment during the grief process. You can help by caring… by being there… by being the best friend you can.
How BFO-Toronto Can Help
BFO provides a caring support system designed to help families cope with the painful reality of their loss and return to the mainstream of life.
Small group discussions led by trained bereaved facilitators are available for parents, siblings (age 3 through 30) and grandparents. Over a period of three months, small groups of approximately eight meet each week for two-hour sessions. More informal meetings with Bereaved Families are available through family nights, newsletters and individual contact.
Professionals with expertise in the nature and dynamics of grief, supervise all group programs and train the bereaved parents for their sensitive role as group leaders.
BFO also provides educational programs and workshops for professionals and for the bereaved.