by Sharon Strouse, author of Artful Grief: A Diary of Healing
It’s part of life. Someone special died today. Someone’s father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter. A family, a lifetime of memories and a lot of pain are left behind. And, for the survivors, the pain is just beginning. Working through that pain and sadness ― the grief process ― is often long and grueling..
Almost everyone worries about what to say to the survivors. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or upset them. But more important than knowing what to say is knowing how to listen. You cannot take away the pain that family and friends are suffering from the loss of a loved one, but you can listen to their stories. Storytelling is a very common and effective way for the grieving person to keep the memory of a loved one alive. The biggest fear for someone grieving is that those around them will forget the loved one now that they are gone.
In a study of 125 grieving persons in Tampa, psychologist Catherine M. Sanders, author of Surviving Grief … and Learning to Live Again, asked participants what was most important in helping them through their grief. They overwhelmingly answered, “friends, family, neighbors ― anyone who would take the time to listen.”.
Thus, listening is probably the single most important thing you can do for someone who is grieving. This means active listening, or listening to really feel what that person is feeling.
It is helpful to allow the survivors to “tell the story” about how their loved one died. At first, they will recount minute details, but with each retelling, the story typically gets shorter. Each time they tell it, it becomes part of acknowledging and accepting the reality of their loss.
If the subject of death makes you uncomfortable, understand that most people feel the same way. But realize that there is a real need for the survivor to talk. Don’t worry about being conversational. It is simply more important to listen.
Let those who are grieving know that you are thinking of them and of the loved one that has passed away. Let them know that you are praying for them and their families. A card can let someone know you are thinking of him or her. A visit or a phone call to listen would even be a better idea.
Some people listen best over a plate of cookies, a glass of tea, and some time set aside to concentrate one-on-one with the person who is grieving. Whatever your style, by simply listening, you can help others cope with their grief.