How many of us have shied away from speaking to someone we know to be recently bereaved? Between not knowing what to say, and fearing we will provoke an emotional reaction, more often than not, we ignore or tip toe round the elephant in the room.
So what do you say? What’s right or wrong? And how can we be more supportive?
We meet bereaved families daily and hear their experiences, both good and bad. A man who lost his wife of 54 years summed it up: “I’ve been bereaved. I’ve not contracted a contagious disease.” Sadly his experience is a common one. Grieving families report examples of friends or neighbours crossing the road to avoid speaking to them because, it turns out, they’re too awkward to acknowledge them.
By avoiding those experiencing a loss – and not having that tough conversation – just adds to their feelings of pain and isolation. By speaking about a loved one, we’re not reminding them of the grief. It’s already there and very real to them. But we are opening a channel for them to talk or share how they feel and that’s the kindest thing we can do. Here are some other tips for how to help.
- Speak to them rather than ignore them or avoid the subject
- Talk about their loss as it’s probably the only thing on their mind
- Speak about their loved one – the person is still real to them
- Offer practical help if and when you can deliver it
- Show kindness and anticipate what you would appreciate if it were you
- Keep in touch as grief is a long journey so cards, calls, visits help
- Listen to them as this really shows you care
- Assume their loss is devastating as often long illnesses can be a relief
- Say you know how they feel: you don’t even if you’ve suffered a loss yourself as we are all different
- Talk about your own feelings or experience: this is their grief not yours
- Ignore them as they’ll probably need you more than ever
- Avoid the subject through concern for their feelings: they’re already grieving so ignoring it won’t make it go away
- Pretend it’s all ok when their loss is very real
- Make a joke which may stem from awkwardness but it’s seldom appropriate
If you know someone who may need specialist bereavement support, we have access to a variety of resources which are on the website or in branch.
Lean on our experience when you need it the most.