1) Don’t try to make the grieving person feel better. YOU CANNOT. For many grievers it only serves to make them feel guilty or worse. Grievers MUST experience the pain of grief for healing to ultimately occur.
2) Don’t tell the griever to give it time. Time has stopped for the griever. Life proceeds in slow motion. Life is too surreal to be identified with time.
3) Don’t try to divert the griever’s attention away from their pain by talking about something else. If you do, when you exit their presence, the reality will generally hit all the harder. Also, it may seem to the grieving that you are uncomfortable with them talking to you about their grief. If they sense this, they will alienate themselves from you.
4) Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died by name. If it makes you uncomfortable, it may want to assess your preparedness for helping. To recover from grief, the griever must have a realistic picture of the dead.
5) Don’t be frightened by tears…the griever’s or your own. Tears are apertures of release and help the griever express their sorrow in healthy ways with your presence as a cushion of warmth and empathy.
6) Don’t be concerned about saying the right things. Let the grieving person talk. Just listen and encourage their talking. Your presence is more meaningful than anything you can say.
7) Don’t argue with grieving individuals. Instead, reassure. You may hear statements such as, “I wish I had done this or had been more considerate” and so forth. Reassure them that they did what they could have done at the time not knowing _______ (name of deceased) would die when he/she did.
8) Don’t use euphemisms and flowery language. Generally, it only makes the situation seem more artificial and unreal. For example, don’t say “passed away” or “expired” when you mean “died.” The griever need to hear “dead.”
9) Don’t be afraid of silence. Silence on the helpers part show that you do not have all the answers and do not feel the need to pretend that you do. Furthermore, it gives grievers time to process thought and express feelings.
10) Don’t make general statements of help such as “If you need me, give me a call.” Chances that they will call are almost nil. Instead, be specific. For example, tell them about a group support group being conducted in their area; or tell them you will stop by next week to see if there is some housework you can help them with; or ask if you can bring dinner by tomorrow.
11) Don’t isolate grievers. Don’t cut your conversation or visit short because you are uncomfortable or because you are too busy. (Never look at your watch or the clock in their presence). Be ready with gentle words and a listening ear. Your sincerity and concern is the best proof to the griever that he/she still has resources to draw from.
12) Don’t become impatient. Many grievers ramble on and on and repeat themselves in their shock and confusion. Supporting with patience, empathy and compassion reveals your care.
13) Don’t be judgmental or rejecting. Grievers are hurting badly. They do not need your judgments and abandonment at this difficult time in their lives.
14) Don’t tell grieving people you know how they feel. YOU DON’T. Even though many helpers have also experienced loss due to death, each experience is different and felt differently. Your pain is never someone else’s pain.
15) Don’t let your own needs determine the experience for the griever.
16) Don’t push the bereaved into new relationships before they are ready. They will let you know when they are open to new experiences.
17) Don’t impose your value system on the bereaved. Your beliefs or ways of doing things may not be theirs.
18) Don’t elaborate on your personal experiences of loss to the bereaved.
19) Don’t let the griever forget their children’s grief and special needs during this time.
20) Don’t be afraid to touch, hold, hug (etc.) the griever. The feelings generated is worth more than a thousand words.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: A Grief Healing Workbook, will be available soon.
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