After I wrote my last post I came to realize that there’s a need for tips on responding and being there for loved ones when they are facing the challenges of loss. I received many reactions both publicly and privately from people who want to be better friends and appreciated my suggestions so I wanted to expand on that post because I think there’s a few more things that are essential. Many young people don’t have the personal experience of loss or death– I was shy of twenty-four when my brother passed and I did experience the immaturity due to ignorance from my peers in offering comfort. I have long thought that we only come to understand how to better respond to death (and be present) only after first-hand experience; but, after my last post I think that maybe my premature experience with loss can help others.
Our last picture together.
If possible go to the services. I have heard friends tell me, “I wasn’t invited so I don’t think I should go.” It’s not a party, no invitations are ever sent by the affected party. Usually friends and extended family spread the news so that it reaches people and whoever can and wants to come does. It depends on the family, culture and religion as to how they want to say good bye to their loved one. Sometimes, there’s a viewing the night before, mass the next day followed by the burial and often times a memorial luncheon. You don’t have to feel obliged to go to everything, but your presence is more powerful than any words you can possibly come up with or most meaningful than any beautiful flower arrangement you can send. Don’t leave without giving your friend (and his family) your condolences and even a warm embrace. *If you are unable to go send a card or give them a call, the important thing is to show that you care.
After the services many people feel like they have done their part and most have; but, if you’re a close friend you have a duty to continue checking in on them. Most people forget about the mourner after the services and usually after the services is when the real mourning begins. From the moment my brother was in the hospital our house was full of people until the day we laid him to rest. Having people around during those first days was wonderful, but once the services were over and I was left alone with my thoughts and pain the real challenges began. I was alone to face the reality of my loss, while alone time is important for healing it was wonderful when people called or continued to show up because I was still in so much need. It’s weird because I tend to be a little prideful when it comes to asking for help and even more in accepting it. While many people who came to the services said the very polite cliché, “if you need anything just call me.” I would like to advice that people that are mourning are pretty consumed in their grief and they will not reach out, even more so us introverts. Again don’t wait for them to ask for help because they won’t. When my loved ones would stop and visit mom during their lunch break, or visit us during the weekend or came to spend our first Christmas without him- those are debts that I will never be able to repay. Checking in after the funeral and beyond doesn’t have to be such a big gesture a quick message, a card, a call just something to let the griever know you are still thinking about them is enough.
A few days ago I read a discourse that Pope Francis gave on how it’s better to not say anything than to say the wrong thing when you are in the presence of someone who is suffering. When my brother died my Christian coworker told me, “You know he died because you didn’t pray enough for him, prayer…” She wanted to relay that prayer is important, but the way she said it was so hurtful that instead of helping - it added to my hurt. I was to blame because I didn’t pray for him. The worst was when a cousin called and told my mom that my brother was in a bad place and needed a lot of prayer. My mom was so traumatized and hurt by this that I seriously wanted to hurt my cousin. We had the fanatic Christian relatives who thought they had secret knowledge of the afterworld and felt the need to advise us on how to rid our family from the satanic vibes. I know these are extremes, but watch what you say and if it comes out wrong don’t be afraid to acknowledge your foolishness. Also, never ever say “I know how it feels” or “it will be OK-” don’t use common phrases to fill in the silence. It’s better to validate your grieving friend that it’s OK to hurt and express his grief. I know many times I felt like I needed to entertain the people who "wanted to be there for me" so when my BFF let me cry and release the torment inside I took up that rare opportunity.
Pray for them and let them know you are praying- this is not to brag, but to express that you are thinking about them. I know that when people tell me they are praying for me and my loved ones it gives me great comfort. Also, pray that God will guide and show you how to be present and give you the qualities needed to be a good friend. Make sure that you are getting your needs met from God so that you won’t be a burden to your grieving friend. As stated last post, people who are grieving are hyper-sensitive and require patience and understanding. Thus, prayer is essential.
I am no grief counselor these suggestions are just things I learned from my own personal experience with loss, hope they help.