Grief and Condolences

The Do's and Dont's of Helping Others in Grief

Posted by Liz Taylor Jan 29, 2015

My friend’s husband passed away a couple of years ago with cancer (he was in his twenties) and it has devastated her life. I recently interviewed her to see how things are going. It quickly morphed into an Etiquette Blog idea as she feels a strong need to educate non-grievers on “what to say” and “when to say nothing” at all.

Keep the following tips in mind when you are helping a family member, friend or coworker grieving a loved one:

1. Offering help. Don’t make offers to help unless you are certain you can follow through. The last thing a griever needs is someone they cannot depend on. If you do offer help, here are some ideas:

     a)      Tell the person what you want to do for them based on who they were before their loss. “I’m going to call you in a few days to determine a date and time where I can come over to watch the kids so you can catch up on errands and time away.” 

     b)      Loss of appetite is a big concern. Inviting the griever over for a home cooked meal is a way to force them out of bed, shower and eat a nourishing meal. If you aren’t as close, try to deliver cut up fruits, vegetables, meals or buy a service such as “Let’s Dish” precooked meals.

     c)       Help schedule yard maintenance, mow their yard or hire a cleaning service.

     d)      Send over a personalized playlist or CD. Music speaks to the soul.

     e)      Go for a walk, take a yoga class or hit the gym as an accountability partner. 

     f)       Being a rock is the most important thing- someone the griever can count on, call, text or cry with. Talking about the griever’s loss is therapeutic, so don’t be afraid to discuss death.

2. Quarterly Check-ins. Many people are amazing helpers right after a person dies. After a few months, people move on and the griever is just starting to skim the surface of what life is like without their loved one.

3. Avoid saying the wrong thing.  Note that nothing you say will make the griever feel better. Its okay to say nothing if you aren’t sure what to say.

     a)      “At least he lived a good long life”. It will never be long enough for the family and friends who are still grieving him.

     b)      “I know exactly how you feel.” This isn’t your place to say as you might not be aware of how complex and deep their relationship was.

     c)       “It is such a comfort to know he is in a better place (or any comment about God unless you know the person is spiritual)”. The griever might not have the same religious and spiritual beliefs that you do.

     d)      “You can always remarry”. A soul mate isn’t replaceable.

4. Keep advice to yourself unless the griever specifically asks for it. He/she might not want to hear about when you think it’s appropriate to date again or how to handle funeral arrangements.

5. Remember anniversaries. Send a text message, letter, flowers or a simple phone call; anything to let the person know you are thinking about them.

Etiquette is all about making others feel comfortable and loved, and death is certainly a time where it’s extremely important. 

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