by Harriet Hodgson

Search the Internet, browse a bookstore, and you find hundreds of books about grief. You will find personal stories, tributes to the deceased, grief poetry, text books, work books, and memory books. When I looked for a book about coping with multiple losses I could not find what I needed. As it turned out, friends were my “book” and they comforted me in many ways.

Though I remember little about 2007, I remember it as the year of death. My daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend. Eight weeks later my brother died. Six months after that my former son-in-law died. Two years have passed and now I see my grief journey more clearly. I see unbelievable kindness. I see the safety net friends created. I see compassion and patience and humor.

One thing is certain: I would not have made it this far without the help of my friends. Friends play a crucial role in the recovery process. In “Coping with Grief and Loss,” Melinda Smith, MA and Ellen Jaffe-Gill, MA, and Jeanne Segal, PhD, say mourners need to share their grief. “Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you,” they advise. “Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances.”

Your friend needs you desperately during this dark, bleak time. Here are five ways to help.
1. Listening. The gift of listening is true gift, a gift that takes time, patience, and attentiveness. Your friend may be so stressed that he or she repeats stories. Do not point this out. Just listen, and continue to listen in the months and years to come.
2. Asking. Your friend needs to talk about their deceased loved ones. My friends were not afraid to ask probing questions to get me to share my feelings. Therese A. Rando, in her book, “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies,” thinks mourners need to “tell others what you need.” Good advice, but it took me six months to figure out what I needed. I am still figuring it out.
3. Encouraging. Bob Deits, author of “Life After Loss,” thinks the bereaved need to tell themselves they will not always feel this badly. The members of my extended family assured me that I would survive multiple losses. I did not expect this assurance from friends, however, and their encouraging words helped me to believe in myself.
4. Including. Five months into “the year of death” I was still in shock. That did not stop friend from inviting me to our organization’s summer board meeting. I gave a report at the meeting and my friends listened attentively. After the meeting we had lunch together and took a group photo. Being with my friends — being included — lifted my spirits.
5. Understanding. The Hospice of Michigan website has published a list of grief myths and realities. One reality: We cannot control where we grieve. Your friend will burst unto tears unexpectedly and in odd places. Treat these outbursts as normal because they are normal. Judith Viorst writes about the despair of grief in “Necessary Losses.” Mourners adapt to their altered lives with enormous difficulty, Viorst says. “In our own different ways, having managed somehow to work our way through our confrontations with unacceptable losses, we can begin to come to the end of mourning.”

Your comfort will help your friend reach the end of mourning and begin a new life.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.
Centering Corportation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life.” The company has also published a companion resource, the “Writing to Recover Journal.”
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