Courtesy Zenobia Dewely
When someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be hard to know how to help. Beyond knowing the nine words you should never say to someone who is grieving, there are plenty of positive ways to show support, says the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Instead of saying “Call if you need anything,” make specific offers, like running a particular errand or doing a yard chore. And overall, take your cues from the bereaved by respecting any needs they may express or cultural perspectives they may have. The following personal stories reveal what else works best to help a friend or family member dealing with grief. Don’t miss this powerful story that will convince you to stop saying, “let me know if you need anything.”
Having a bodyguard
Courtesy Megan Devine
“As the team of wardens searched for my partner in the river, the lead warden told me to call a friend, as he didn’t want me to be alone. My friend Becky was the first to answer and came to the river immediately. We waited out the search together—with her mostly hanging back, giving me space, or entertaining our dog. After they found Matt’s body, a well-meaning, but poorly skilled crisis worker came to me, handing me a packet of information, saying, ‘now that you’re a widow, you’ll need these things.’ While I stood there, saying nothing, still reeling from the fact that I was, now, suddenly, inexplicably, a widow, she went on and on about my ‘widowhood’—facts and details and phone numbers. After several minutes, I turned to Becky and said, ‘please remove her.’ In that moment, my mild-mannered, gentle friend turned fierce (though calm and clear). I have no idea what she said to the crisis worker, I only know the worker went away. I have no idea what she said in the weeks to come, whenever someone, within her earshot, did something rude, insensitive, or intrusive. Becky became one of a core group of bodyguards—people committed to making the horrendous even just a little more gentle. Together, they made protected space for me. They called funeral homes to ask questions I couldn’t ask. They fielded hundreds of calls and emails from well-wishers, extended family, and nosey onlookers. They cared for the dog, took out the trash, kept co-workers informed. They took over when the immediacy of grief made some people, shall we say, rude and poorly skilled, in their actions toward me. They were so efficient and effective, many difficult things happened in those days that never made it to me—I was briefed only after the issues were sorted. I bet I didn’t hear the half of it. In removing so many external burdens, they left me to stare at the gaping hole that just erupted in my life, secure in the knowledge that they had my back. That one, sustained, kindness made all the difference.” Make sure you know these 10 things you should say to someone who is grieving.
—Megan Devine, Portland, Oregon-based author of the forthcoming book It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand