Grieving is an extremely painful and difficult process. The death of a loved one can turn the world upside down, leaving people emotionally upset, confused, and exhausted. As Catholics, we are called to comfort the grieving, which is no simple task. Comforting people can be a challenging experience, and calls for much strength and divine grace. There are some guidelines that can help you through the consoling process. Keep reading to learn about 5 ways to comfort someone who is grieving.
1. Be perceptive
We have all experienced grief in some form. It’s easy, when comforting someone who is grieving, to compare or draw on our own experiences in an effort to empathize. However, it’s important that you remember each person is different in the way they grieve, for how long, etc. People feel grief in different ways. Coping methods that worked for you may not work for others—do not get upset or impatient if someone doesn’t grieve the same way you do. Meet them where they are and try to understand them the best you can.
2. Be genuine (avoid vague assurances and common clichés)
It’s a natural tendency to try and comfort someone who’s grieving by saying “I’m sure they are in a better place now” or “everything happens for a reason.” While these statements may be true, they aren’t very helpful to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Instead, speak the facts. Let them know that yes– grieving is a painful experience, but you will be with them every step of the way. Also, be as specific as possible when talking about someone who has passed away. Instead of saying “We will all miss Jane” or “Bob touched so many lives” talk about a specific memory you had with the person, or elaborate on how they impacted your life specifically.
3. Be present
After the loss of a loved one, life can become overwhelming. There are so many final arrangements to take care of, not to mention managing family, work, and other personal obligations. People who experience the loss of a loved one may need help and not even realize it, or might not know how to ask. Some common areas that people need additional help with include meal preparation, shopping for toiletries and other necessities, financial advice (perhaps a referral to a trusted financial advisor), yard work, transportation, etc. Instead of asking someone if they “need help”, offer to do one of these tasks specifically. It’s important to remember, however, the fine line between helping someone and being in the way. Some people may prefer to handle things on their own, or they might just want to keep their home private. In this case, dropping off a care package on their front door is a nice gesture, letting the person know you care without imposing on their grieving process. Also- never forget the power behind a quick phone call or handwritten note to let the person know they are in your thoughts and prayers.
4. Be a good listener
The truth is, most people are in the habit of ignoring or hiding sadness and other unhappy emotions. However, it’s important that people express their grief and sadness in order to move on in a healthy way. Therefore, do not try to “fix” someone, or distract them from their grief. Instead, listen. Listen to their favorite story about their loved one, even if they tell the same story over and over again. Encourage them to talk about their loved one, including saying the loved one’s name out loud. This can help keep the memory of the deceased alive, and lets the person grieving know that you are comfortable talking about the death. Acknowledging the deceased and the life they lived is much healthier than trying to distract the person and forcing them to move on too quickly.
5. Be smart
It’s important to be understanding and patient with someone who is grieving. They may do or say confusing or even hurtful things. It’s important to remember the different stages of grief, and that people handle those stages differently. However, if you notice that the individual is turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive medication, self-harm, uncontrolled rage or depression, or complete denial of the death— it’s time to reach out for professional help (listed below). In less severe cases, you can also reach out to close family or your local clergy for additional help. There is no shame or failure in turning for more help, it simply means you are wise enough to understand what you are able to handle and what should be brought to someone else’s attention.
Emergency numbers and organizations
United Way: dial 211
Catholic Charities: 216-334-2978
Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255
Addiction Services: 877-896-5143
FOR ALL IMMEDIATE EMERGENCIES DIAL 911
Post written by Katie Karpinski