Consoling the Bereaved

Too often people stay away when a friend’s husband/wife, child, or parent has died because they don’t know what to say or do.  I hope the following information will be of help so that you don’t stay away when a friend or co-worker needs you the most. 

  1. The first thing to understand is that unless you can bring the dead person back to life, there is NOTHING you can do to “fix” the person’s grief.
  2. No one “gets over” the death of someone they love. They can learn to live with it, adapt to it, find ways to incorporate it into their lives, etc., but they do not “recover” and get over it.
  3. Grief lasts much longer than you think. Depending on the closeness and nature of the relationship, the trauma of the death, and numerous other factors, some people don’t even really begin to touch the depth of their grief until around the second anniversary after the death.
  4. You cannot know another person’s pain. Adults and children do not appreciate anyone saying, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. You can only know how you feel.
  5. The best thing you can do is listen. Listen, listen, listen, listen.
  6. Grief is not just the emotion of sadness. Grief can look like hyperactivity, distractedness, anger, energy, ennui, numbness, confusion, aggression, and almost any other emotion you can think of. The good friend will understand that their friend is not the same — they are grieving. They may be angry. You need to understand they are not angry with you, they are angry at the situation.
  7. You cannot talk someone out of his or her feelings. All you will do is teach them that you are not someone it is safe to share with. No one wants to be told how he or she should feel.
  8. Certain philosophies may help you. Don’t assume they will be helpful to the grieving person.
  9. A hug is worth a thousand words.
  10. Bring food. If you keep the above in mind and understand that the greatest gift you have to give is your presence, you will have done a lot to help your grieving friend.

©Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., 1996