Supporting a grieving person
Grief is the psychological-emotional experience following a loss of any kind such as bereavement, abandonment, divorce, miscarriage or loss of an unborn baby. It is the exact process followed by a person diagnosed with terminal illness.
Bereavement is the loss of a loved one through death. I will talk about grieving when one loses a loved one through death. The loss is not just about the person but also the loss of the roles that person played in our lives, loss of the privileges they brought into our space, and to some it is loss of huge benefits like provision or protection.
One may ask, why then understand grief? This is because each of us will face grief at some point or we will be needed to help our friends and loved ones as they grieve.
Death is the only thing in this world that no one is prepared for. When we invest well and write wills, we are just making it easy for the people we will leave behind. That does not mean that we are ready to die.
Proper preparation however does not eliminate the pain of separation when death occurs. No one is prepared to let go the ones who are part of our lives and that is what makes the process of grieving even harder. That said, there is no formula for grief.
Signs that you have not grieved some loss, or a loved one well
· Having heavy emotions when we see photos of what we lost or who we lost, when we find ourselves thinking we can never find anyone who equals to the people we lost, when we feel the need not to do anything that can hurt them (hurting the dead), when we imagine that if the people we lost were present all things would be better, when we feel totally incapacitated without the deceased’s support.
· Listening to a sad story from someone else and feeling extremely overwhelmed by emotions and even responding as though it were your personal story. An example is a spouse who faced domestic violence and was able to leave the marriage. While leaving is a good thing, grieving the loss is very important. Failure to grieve leads to a likelihood to react to other violent relationship with personal feelings as though you were the victim, relating to your own past violent relationship.
· A woman who lost her husband to another woman is likely to insult or become very bitter with a man who has an extramarital affair even if that man is a stranger. A person who didn’t grieve a loved one will cry at the death of anybody, even in a movie that features a death scene. Someone can get overwhelmed during a funeral of someone who was not even close and could even collapse, because of not having grieved the loss of a loved one well.
Harmful statements to make to a grieving person
1. Its Gods will – even if you believe so, let the grieving person be the one using this statement, not you.
2. The loved one is in a better place. In case of death, you do not know that for sure.
3. It is well. The process of grief is a very painful one. Nothing is well when one is experiencing so much loss and pain, unless it is the grieving person who believes that it is well.
4. God picks the best. This sounds very insensitive that a good God is pleased in others going through pain. Such statements make some grieving people get bitter with God, even question His existence.
5. God loved their loved one more and that is why He took him/her.
6. Just let it go. Letting go is a process, a journey. Once the grieving person has walked that journey, they will get to that point of letting go. The process of letting go cannot be rushed.
7. I understand you. Even if you grieved yesterday, what you felt is not what the other person feels. It is not possible to understand a grieving person since their pain and experience is totally different from yours.
8. Don’t cry anymore. Some even add the words; “Don’t you believe the Bible, that Christians don’t die, they just go to God?” There is nothing wrong with a grieving person expressing themselves in the manner they feel comfortable, so long as the method used is not harming them or someone else.
9. Be strong for the kids. In grief, your wellness comes first. Unless you are well, you cannot take care of anyone. Let the parent grieve their way and let the children also grieve their way.
10. Do not prescribe to them the way you think is acceptable to grieve.
11. Do not tell them the way you or someone else was over it in a few months or how so and so was strong after losing a loved one. Each person grieves their way, takes different time.
12. Do not question their faith in God, take them on guilt trips for not being good Christians. At that moment of pain, we need God in skin so be there for them.
13. Do not challenge them to look at the many other blessings they have. They do not have that capacity to rationalize things until they are well.
What not to do
1. Stop wiping their tears, just give them a handkerchief. Wiping them may make them feel uncomfortable and cut short the grief process, it may communicate your discomfort and make the grieving person stop. You can only wipe if you relate intimately with the grieving person.
2. Do not separate the grieving person from other mourners when people begin to wail or cry. Let them fully be aware of the pain of loss. It takes pain for a person to be aware of the huge loss, after acknowledgement then one begins to heal.
3. Do not make decisions for them. Grief does not incapacitate anybody. I have seen people taking kids away to a relative’s place to keep them away from the grief in their home, rearranging the house, doing all sorts of things because you imagine you are helping the person who is grieving. Some grieving people come back from the funeral only to find the personal effects of the loved one who died taken away without them being consulted. While your thoughts and actions could be very helpful, always consult with that person before making a decision for them.
What to do
i. Allow the grieving person to grieve their own way. Let them cry, shout, wail, scream, whatever they want to do. There is no right or wrong way to respond to an abnormal situation. Death is surely an abnormal situation. You can only stop them if they want to harm themselves like using of knives, poisonous substances or any tool or equipment that can physically harm them or others or if they attempt suicide, homicide etc.
ii. Be present as much as you can. That communicates every good thing that a grieving person needs. Avail yourself way past the funeral. Do not feel compelled to talk, your presence is enough comfort.
iii. Allow them to ask questions, whether against people, against God, against their spouse, against whatever or whoever, it is a part of the process. That’s what they feel so let them let it all out. Questions asked help to rid the inner toxic environment. You do not need to answer, in fact, do not try to answer. No one has answers as to why crisis happens to humanity. All you need to do is tell them you have no answers but you are there to listen should they need to ask more questions. Should you try to answer, your answers may be more hurtful since they are so wounded at that moment.
iv. Be patient. Sometimes while angry, the grieving person may be violent or even insulting to you and this can push you away. If that happens, assure them that you will be present should they need you. Be sober to know that in their state, that action is normal. Those tantrums are part of grieving.
To the person grieving
1. Allow yourself to be supported. The feeling of ‘no one understands me’ is “very loud” and while that is true, people can love and care for you as part of support, whether they understand you or not. Avoid isolating yourself as that is a direct ticket to depression and other mental disorder.
2. Know there is no one too strong for death. Do not try to be strong or show people you can manage. Acting in such a manner may just get you overwhelmed after the funeral.
3. Seek professional help when grieving lingers so long such that it might signify depression, when there is frequency of suicidal ideas or when you feel like death is the solution to your sorrows. There is something called grief counseling and is done professionally. That is very helpful for someone who is grieving.
4. Allow yourself to grieve. Grief comes with upward and downward emotions. Today you are well, tomorrow you are at your lowest. As long as you are making little steps, you need not worry.
5. Dreams of the departed are not anything abnormal or unusual. It is the process of the system bringing the material that the system is in denial about. Once your system goes past denial, the dreams disappear. Should they keep appearing many years after death, then it only means you have not grieved through.
The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences one can go through. Do not feel like a weakling if you have to invest in grief counseling.