How to Ask For More Help – or Less

It can be difficult for anyone who is grieving to guage their need for support from others.

Maybe you’ve begun to realize that you’d like more support. As one person told us, “After my loss, I got a lot of support and help from family and friends. But it’s been awhile now and I seem to be forgotten. I think they see me as ‘strong’ but I still need to know that they are there for me.”

As you struggle with the many stresses that come with losing a loved one, you may feel vulnerable, lost, or “alone in the world.”  For some, especially those who normally see themselves as self-sufficient, or who believe it’s weak to depend on others, it can be difficult to ask for support during this difficult period.

Keep in mind that nobody is strong all the time. So cut yourself some slack and consider the following:

  • Mourning is a temporary period, during which everybody needs to lean on someone.
  • Your limitations won’t last. With time, you’ll get better at coping on your own.
  • Encourage emotional support by telling others that, for now, you need their support while you adjust to your loss. Arranging to “touch base” by phone or e-mails once or twice a week, will help you get through this.
  • If you need assistance with chores or shopping, avoid overloading any one person by delegating different tasks to various people.
  • Be very specific about what you need help with. For example, you might say, “With all that’s been going on right now, I’m a little overwhelmed. Would you mind helping me with…?”
  • Be aware that others have their own lives and responsibilities.

Remember: Most people are eager to help. Lending you a hand will help them feel like they are doing something useful, even if it’s only picking up a few groceries.

Some people feel overwhelmed by support from others. They may want less support. One person told us, “Since my loss, my family fusses over me. I liked the attention at first, but it’s been awhile and now I can’t seem to convince them that I’m able to take care of myself again.”

In the weeks following your loved one’s death, you may welcome having friends and family step in and take over responsibilities. As you start to get back on your feet, however, too much assistance may become unnecessary. If you’re usually the “self-sufficient” type of person, you may even feel uneasy by others’ attempts to take care of you.

How might you tell an overly helpful family member to step back? Here’s one approach: “Your help has meant a lot to me, but I’m starting to feel stronger, and it’s important that I begin to stand on my own two feet as much as possible. If something does come up where I might need your help, is it okay if I let you know?”

Remember: Everybody needs support at certain times. Let family and friends know how much you appreciate their help but be clear about your need to feel more like your old self again.

Laurie Spector

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Laurie Spector, M.S.W. (left) received her Masters Degree in Social Work from UCLA. In addition to a private practice as a psychotherapist, Laurie has worked in psychiatric and medical settings. Inspired by the deaths of her father and brother, Laurie has counseled terminally ill patients and their families as well as conducted bereavement groups. Ruth Webster, M.S.W. (right) received her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. The homicide death of her teenaged son was soon followed by her husband’s death by cancer when Ruth was 45. These losses influenced her career choice to counsel the widowed and conduct bereavement groups at a major HMO for over 17 years. These mother/daughter psychotherapists are co-authors of Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? A Clear, Practical Guide for Coping and Finding Strength When Your Spouse Dies. The Revised and Expanded Edition of Lost My Partner was published in 2008. Learn more about the authors and Lost My Partner at their website: http://www.lostmypartner.com or visit their blog at: http://www.lostmypartnerblog.com

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