Coming along side a grieving friend immediately after the death of someone they love is probably one of the most intentional acts of selfless caring we can do. But how many of us are hesitant and uncertain about what to do or say. Here are a few ideas that my grieving friends have taught me.
Listening is really important. For those who have witnessed the death of a loved one, they need to repeatedly talk about the details of the dying process, and their feelings about it. Knowing this need of the grieving, may help us as we find ourselves listening to details of a the death that we might be unprepared for. Some stories are of a painful death-bed struggle that extends over time; others may die quickly and quietly. Other death stories can include details of an accident, violence, neglect, or how someone took their own life. As a listener, I think it is helpful to offer acceptance and understanding even when the story might generate uncomfortable feelings for us. (Being a comforter is never about us.) The less we say, the better. The less we react, the better. Just be the listener that supports and acknowledges the story without judgement or dismay.
A Safe Listener
With complicated death stories such as suicide, your friend might find it very difficult to talk unless they know you are completely emotionally and spiritually safe for them to share with. These kinds of trusted listeners are discerning, discrete, caring, gentle, and wise. They know that this conversation needs to be kept in confidence and held safe from others who may not handle the information with care and protection. Again, we must guard our reactions, so it never turns the attention to us. These moments of story telling are for the benefit of the grieving. When we listen, we give them space to begin their journey towards healing.
The ancient book of Proverbs offers this wisdom:
“The one who knows much says little; an understanding person remains calm.”
The Message, Prov. 17:27
Repeating the Story until Healing Begins
An important thing to remember is that nearly all the bereaved need to repeat their story of the death details many times over. Yet after they have processed these memories of their grief experience, they will move past it, and you will have been a valuable part of helping them through this earliest of grieving experiences.
So, what to do when you aren’t sure if the grieving friend has already processed their memories? Simply asking, “Have you talked to anyone yet about the day your husband died?” If they say “yes,” you could give them the opportunity to continue the conversation by offering, “Do you want to talk about it anymore?” Then just listen. If they answer, “No” you might respond by saying, “When you feel ready, I am here for you and will be honored to listen to your experience.” If you don’t feel you would do well listening to the details of a death story, then it might be best to offer support in other ways. To do so, take a look at more blogs for “Conversations for the Comforter.”