On Grief and Comforting the Bereaved

I haven’t blogged in forever. I mean really blogged, not just posted a light-hearted, quick piece to keep my readers engaged. I always apologise in my own personal journal because the only time I ever seem to journal, too, is when I’m angry or hurt… and I don’t end up with any good memories to read about.

Today is one of those days. I don’t have anything good to write about and everything seems so bleak. I lived on mere eggshells throughout 2020 – as I’m sure a lot of us did – unsure if my job would remain secure, or if my loved ones would stay safe. I remember becoming particularly anxious in the month of December as so many people were passing away and the wave seemed to get closer and closer to home.

I’m still not ready to write about the details because that will just confirm it. My nightmare of losing a parent will actually be confirmed and I’ll be forced to live this new reality –

Fuck.

I’d honestly rather pretend that my dad will be at the airport waiting to pick me up when I finally make it home. I’d rather hear his deep voice call me by my childhood nickname – “Sharaga” before he embraces me and carries away my bags. I’d rather anything but this pain.

I’m writing this because before my father left us, I’d never mourned anyone close to me. I never understood fully the permanence of death and the unshakeable feeling of having a limb of yours suddenly amputated. My mum and I had a conversation the other day about how one can only truly know how to comfort a grieving person when they themselves have suffered loss.

It’s true. I used to awkwardly dance around the conversation and not know exactly what to say when passing my condolences to others, much like other people have been with me lately. But when you’ve faced your own loss, the conversation becomes entirely different. And so I wanted to share some of the wonderful ways that I have been comforted in this dark time, by friends and family. Perhaps I will also share some of the things you can avoid saying too, because that’s important. Maybe this will help guide someone who doesn’t necessarily have the right words to say or know how to comfort those who have lost a loved one.

Ask

Sometimes it’s best to ask the person you are supporting, how best you can support them through their grief. Of course, you should not expect that they will immediately enunciate a clear description of their needs but simply letting them unpack and tell you what you can do to help them feel loved is a good start. This over forced interactions or gestures any day.

Offer

I had a friend who messaged me as soon as she heard, and asked if she could call me – “You don’t have to say anything, I just want to pray for you.” She prayed and cried with me on the phone, and I didn’t say a single word except to thank her at the end of the call. I don’t know, but something about this moved and comforted me so much because I wasn’t expected or asked to talk about it. There was no pressure. Another friend asked for my address and drove to my apartment without asking me, and I know I needed that because if she had asked for my permission I probably would have said no so I could sit alone and cry. But I needed people around me, particularly with me being unable to travel back home. Try to offer yourself in this time and do something kind for the person you are supporting without them having to ask. It’s just nice to know someone is always thinking of you.

Acts of Service

Some of my friends made homecooked meals for me and brought me flowers and wine. I never thought of cooking for a grieving friend but this helped me so much because the last thing I wanted to think about was what to make for food. I’m so grateful for this. My boyfriend booked a massage for me and this really helped alleviate some of my stress and built-up tension. My roommate planned a paint night for me to take my mind off things and relax. Anything you can do to show that you care, even if you don’t have all the right words, will go a long way.

Regular Check-Ins

If you’re close to the bereaved, or if you have faced a similar plight and want to encourage them, please check in regularly. I too have been guilty of passing my condolences and never checking in again to see how the person is coping. This is so important. Whether or not the person responds, or whether the conversation is brief or long, a simple “Just thinking of you today” can make a world of difference. If you’re unsure what to say, just ask how they’re holding up, and if they have found something that gives them strength during this time. Send uplifting quotes if you must. A little later, you could ask the person to share some of their favourite memories with their loved one… fond memories are a way that we keep the deceased alive, after all.

Whatever it is, don’t not call, or fail to text because you’re ‘giving them time’… if they haven’t asked for time then overcome your awkwardness and send them a message. I’d prefer this over a delayed text or call months down the line.

Don’t Ask for Details

This really irritated me. Some people very clearly only cared about the details of what had happened rather than trying to sympathise with my family and I. Please, if the bereaved do not voluntarily share with you what happened, or if the conversation does not naturally flow in that direction, do not press for details. Your need and desire to satisfy your selfish curiosity cannot precede your humanity. It’s inappropriate and can re-traumatise the individual when you are unable to provide any solace afterwards. What matters more is reassuring the person that you care and are available for them if they need you to be.

I guess one other phrase I’ve also found oddly uncomforting is, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

Thanks, I guess?

See how strange that can come off? “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now and I’m praying for you and thinking of your family each day” would be preferred, but maybe that’s just a personal preference.

If all else fails, you can even offer to just sit on the phone in silence with your grieving friend if they just want to think and cry with someone in the moment. Overall, it’s your consistent presence that brings more comfort, not necessarily you always having the right thing to say at the right time.

To all those who have lost loved ones in this time… I stand with you in this pain. Maybe one day we will learn how to adequately deal with it, I don’t know. I wish you peace

4 Replies to “On Grief and Comforting the Bereaved”

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