Written by: Shenise Gatson
August 17, 2015
May 26, 2017
February 9, 2018
You never forget the dates. You wear them like clothes. Like the skirt you put on in the morning. Like the shoes you slip into every day. Through days of pain, through moments of sunshine… you remember.
– Author: Shenise Gatson (excerpt from Understanding a Grieving Soul)
On the dates listed above, my life changed forever. I lost my parents and my mother-in-law. Nothing could have prepared me for level of devastation and pain that comes from losing a parent. No matter how many times you experience loss, it still hurts. Because of my experience, I have a strong connection to individuals who have experienced loss. Lately I have been consumed by this need to encourage others to support grieving people.
In life, we all have moments when we feel bad for what someone else is experiencing but sometimes we do not know how to support them. When an unexpected, emotional or unfortunate event tackles someone we know, our heart goes out. Especially when that person has experienced loss.
We wonder…how can I help? What can I do? Sometimes words fail us. We fear reaching out because we are unsure of what to say or do. Often times, when people feel uncomfortable or awkward talking to a grieving person, they fall into the trap of using overly used phrases (clichés) to fill the awkward silence.
One of the most common ones that drove me absolutely crazy during my grief journey was, “Call me if you need anything” and “Be strong for your family….”. Although there is nothing wrong with using these phrases to comfort someone, the problem was everyone was saying them to me but there was no action behind the words.
Often times, grieving people are not going to call if they need anything. They may be waiting on you to call them. Also, it was hard for me to be strong. During that time of my life, I did not understand what being strong looked like. It also made me feel like I was supposed to repress my emotions about their death in front of people.
How can we avoid just randomly saying things to a grieving person and be helpful to them during their time of need?
Below are four tips for those who want to comfort a grieving/mourning person:
#1 – Ask
Ask them how they are doing and genuinely listen to their response.
Sometimes that person just needs a place to voice their feelings. This is not one of those moments where you briskly pass by them in the break room at work and say, “Hey, how was your weekend” and move-on. A genuine listening ear may be what the mourning person needs. After my dad’s passing, I remember feeling depressed and alone on his birthday. One of my co-workers reached out to me that weekend to make sure that I was faring well. It meant the world to me that someone else remembered my dad on his special day.
#2 – Visit
Visit with them (often). Remind yourself to check in or visit that person regularly.
Do not let social media and text messages keep you from really seeing how that person is doing. As someone who has experienced loss, I became a master at masking my pain with a smile and a laugh. During my grief journey, a family member decided not to send a text and instead picked up the phone and called me. The first words out of her mouth were, “I’m glad you answered. I just needed to hear your voice…”. That was one of the most uplifting conversations because I felt comfortable enough to pour out my thoughts and feelings with someone who truly cared about me.
#3 – Offer
Offer to help with specific tasks.
Grieving people sometimes need help clearing out their homes, shopping, completing daily tasks while they plan a funeral or make arrangements. Instead of saying, “Call me if you need anything” maybe try, “Hey, I can babysit Tommy for you while you head to the funeral home” or “I’m headed to the grocery store. Why don’t I pick up dinner for you while you make phone calls“. A little gesture goes a long way.
#4 – Allow
Allow them to talk about their loved one freely “without getting that deer in headlights look”.
Sometimes I would be in the middle of a conversation and something would spark a fond memory of my parents. Before I knew it, I found myself saying, “My mom used to make awesome desserts. This Thanksgiving is going to be hard. I surely miss her”.
I cannot tell you how many times I would bring up my parents during conversation and people would awkwardly look on as if to say, “Um….I don’t know what I am supposed to say here. Her parents are gone…..maybe if I just move on and talk about my own Thanksgiving plans”.
Often times, when a person talks about their deceased loved one, it is their way of keeping their loved one’s memory alive. It helps to know that someone else cares and respects their memory as well. So, even if you did not know their deceased loved one, just listening, nodding and allowing them to share their fond moment is respectful and can be therapeutic.
For more information on how to support, purchase my book Understanding a Grieving Soul. Available in paperback and kindle purchase on http://www.amazon.com.
Copyright @ 2018 Shenise Gatson
Photos provided by Pexels.