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How to support a grieving person

Readers Lounge By Lutfiya Wanjiru
Wambui Kamiru comforted during the memorial of her late husband Bob Collymore (Photo Courtesy)

In the wake of the funeral and memorial service for the late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, many mourners have presented themselves to offer their condolences and grieve with the family. During such times, certain individuals don’t know what to do or say to the grieving person or end up saying the wrong things. Here’s how to support a grieving person without causing more heartache:

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1.Understand the grieving process

The better you understand grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you’ll be to help a bereaved friend or family member. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not unfold in orderly, predictable or understandable stages. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling the bereaved person what they “should” be feeling or doing. It is an emotional rollercoaster, with unpredictable highs, lows, and setbacks.

2. Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died

People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute by minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens. By listening patiently and compassionately, you’re helping the person heal. Sometimes they don’t even need you to speak, sit with them in silence and hold their hand, your presence will offer great support. Allow them to re-live the days to their loved ones demise.

3. Be practical in your support

During grieving the bereaved person’s mindset is completely distorted. Ordinary things such as cooking and taking the kids to school are beyond them. This is where you come in as a friend, cook for them, clean the house, do the dishes. The grieving individual may feel as if they are a burden and may not reach out to others for help. Your attentiveness and being available consistently allows them to be more comfortable in terms of receiving help.

4. Don’t disappear after the funeral

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Grieving extends well past the funeral and this is the point whereby people tend to disappear. Help the grieving person by keeping in touch, once the funeral is over and the other mourners are gone, and the initial shock of the loss has worn off, your support is more valuable than ever. Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearances. The bereaved person may look fine on the outside, while they are suffering on the inside. Avoid saying things like “You are so strong” or “You look so well.” This puts excess pressure on the person to keep up appearances and to hide their true feelings.

5. Watch for warning signs of depression

It’s common for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused, disconnected from others, or like they’re going crazy. But if the bereaved person’s symptoms don’t gradually start to ease as time passes or they get worse with time - this may be a sign that normal grief has evolved into a more serious problem, such as clinical depression.

Encourage the grieving person to seek professional help if you observe any of the following warning signs after the initial grieving period. These warning signs are: Extreme difficulty functioning in daily life, extreme focus on the death, excessive bitterness, anger or guilt, neglecting personal hygiene, alcohol or drug abuse.

Remember when it comes to a bereaved person, all they require from others is support. Give them the strength they need during this difficult time.

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