Bereavement Support Line 1800 80 70 77

Someone I know is grieving

Grieving is difficult; difficult to go through and difficult to witness. But there are ways you can help someone who is coping with loss.

  • Try to attend the removal or funeral (only if this is possible).
  • Take the time to make contact either by writing or on the phone. A personal note expressing your condolences and mentioning any fond memories you have of the person who has died can be very comforting.
  • Express your sympathy in a simple way. Avoid clichés like “it was for the best”, or “life goes on”, as they may give offence. Phrases like “I’m so sorry” or “you’re in my thoughts” are better. There are no words that will take away the pain.
  • Make a brief visit (only if possible) and offer practical help.
  • Don’t avoid someone who is grieving out of embarrassment or fear of upsetting them. They may believe you don’t care enough to sympathise with them.
  • Try not to tell them that you know how they feel; you can never truly know how someone else is feeling.
  • Your own losses may be triggered when you talk to someone who is bereaved, but try not to recount stories of your own or other people’s losses. It’s rarely helpful.

The importance of awknowledging grief

As time passes

Most people experience a sense of shock when they are first bereaved. It’s difficult to absorb what has happened. Grief may begin with thoughts such as “I can’t believe she’s dead” or “It all feels like a bad dream”. This numbing sense of shock and disbelief can last days, weeks, or months.

Your friend may appear to be coping well as life goes on, but for many, it’s in the months after the death that the full force of what has happened begins to hit them.

Everyday tasks from working and parenting, to shopping and paying bills become very difficult. This seems to coincide with a time when people who were very supportive at the time of the death, stop calling. While friends and neighbours resume their normal lives, someone is grieving is facing months and years of reminders of their loss and the adjustments they need to make.

Here are some tips for helping a bereaved person as time goes by:

  • don’t assume they’re ‘over it’ or have enough help. If you’re unsure how to help, just ask.
  • don’t avoid mentioning the person who has died. Most bereaved people welcome the chance to talk. You don’t lessen grief by avoiding the subject.
  • don’t offer advice on how they should feel, act, or get on with their lives. Allow them space to make their own decisions.
  • try not to make vague offers of help like “call me if you need anything”. Bereaved people may find it hard to reach out and ask for help. Make specific offers of help – cook dinner, cut the grass, go for a walk with them, etc.
  • don’t feel offended if they refuse your offer of help or turn to someone else for comfort.
  • try to remember special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.
  • finally, mind yourself. Supporting a bereaved person is hard work. Know your own limits and only offer to do what you can reasonably do.

“I’m fine!”

What does a bereaved person mean when they say “I’m fine”. Should we keep asking? Dr. Susan Delaney offers some insight and advice.

Basic dos and don’ts

Do

  • Acknowledge the loss.
  • Care more about the person than your embarrassment.
  • Be aware of how bereavement affects people.
  • Encourage the person to talk if they want to.
  • Acknowledge important anniversaries suitably and sensitively (deaths as well as births, weddings, etc.).

Don’t

  • Minimise the impact of the loss (e.g. ‘you will meet someone else’).
  • Reassure when what is needed is permission to share grief.
  • Limit the time in which support is given.
  • Expect someone to be “back to normal” quickly.

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