Dealing with grief

When someone you know suffers a bereavement you might find you’re one of those people who ‘doesn’t know what to say’.      If you know them very well, they may not need your words, it’s enough to give the lightest touch of your hand, against theirs, on their shoulders, their knees if they’re sitting and simply add the words ‘I’m sorry’;   that’s all it takes.   As someone who has recently experienced bereavement, I have felt surprised and sometimes upset by occasional glib reactions which lead me to want to convey as best I can, what those of us in this position would prefer to hear. For example, we would ask you not to say ‘give me a ring, anytime’ – that will be interpreted as ‘I really can’t be bothered’ and from my experience it comes from those who tell everyone else – ‘well, I said to give me a ring any time – but haven’t heard a word’, perhaps followed by – ‘I’m so worried.   She/he must be feeling so awful’.   Of course, it may be well meant, but I can assure you that the person concerned will not find it easy to knock on your door, looking sad and in need of company.    More likely they will be looking for the expression on your face that says ‘Oh no, not now.   I’m really not in the mood’.    If you sincerely want to help, make contact, telephone and chat about the one they’ve lost.   Instead of ‘ring any time’ it’s so much better to say ‘why don’t you come round for a cup of tea, a drink, a meal, this afternoon, next Tuesday, tomorrow evening?’.   That way you make someone feel that their company is wanted because they’ve been specifically invited.    

Do not ring with the pretext of wanting to give your condolences if you then suddenly ‘must go, my other ‘phone’s ringing’ or ‘must go, my husband’s just come in’. I’ve had those calls from one-time very close friends, who made unfulfilled promises to ring back. Certainly, they will never hear from me again. Instead of such calls, I fortunately have other friends who invited me to join them on a walk, simply knocked on my door and spent an hour or so with me, or those who are not close by, at least phone regularly.   Equally, taking a drive somewhere can be distracting and helps take the mind  off other things.   Again, if you also knew the person who had died, any photographs or videos, perhaps their favourite piece of music, are wonderful things to receive, in an envelope, or more likely, on the Internet.

When you are grieving, you do not know what to expect;  apart from the obvious emotions,  you might also feel exceptionally angry and that heavy emptiness inside will certainly mean everyday tasks and problems can become impossible to handle.  Perhaps you simply want to sit and cry;   perhaps you cannot cry.    But some form of normality has to be observed.   You still need to eat, which involves leaving the house to buy food, possibly bumping into people who do not yet know and might cheerily call out ‘Lovely day isn’t it.   How are you? Off somewhere nice?’.    Should you say ‘No, I’m going home to cook something that I really don’t fancy eating, then I’ll probably sit on my own and cry’ ?   No, of course not;  you probably will do your best to give a smile, perhaps make an effort to ‘be in control’ and answer ‘Well no, I’m afraid not.   You see I lost my husband, (wife, child, best friend, whoever it may be) and I actually don’t feel too good.   Never mind, life goes on’.    Once the news is out, the ball is in the other court and then you know whether or not you’re speaking to a friend.   If they say they’re sorry, followed by ‘must rush, give  me a ring some time’ they’re certainly not a close one.   Happily, most people will manage to stop with you for a few moments and perhaps say something that will be helpful in some way, but although we must make allowances for those who really do not know what to say, overall, that attitude leads me to feel they just can’t get away fast enough and are far too ‘busy’ to give a second thought to another’s near despair.When a true friend makes a point of ‘phoning, popping in to see you whenever they can, perhaps invites you to eat and generally manages to truly care, that is such a great help.    

Neverthless, despite it’s being difficult not to feel bad about some of these attitudes, it has to be admitted that none of us can know how we might react to losing a loved one, so how can those who’ve not had that experience easily find the right way to act?