All of us will have to encounter those who are grieving at some point in our lives. It might be people close to us or people we know through work or other activities. Regardless, it's an emotion that we will all experience personally and will all encounter in others. Guidelines on how to handle those who are bereaved can be valuable. Here are some excellent dos and don'ts:
- ignore the situation and refrain from bringing it up.
- offer empty platitudes: "It's for the best," nor "At least he's out of pain now."
- ask, "Is there anything I can do?" nor say, "Just call me if you need anything."
- make a casual inquiry and breeze on by. "Hey, how ya doin'? See ya..."
- say, "Don't cry," when the bereaved gets teary. Don't try to deflect her tears, or even to turn off your own.
- send a sympathy card without your return address and or your last name, if there's the remotest chance the bereaved might not be sure of your identity by a first name alone.
- be afraid of touch. Giving a hug or simply touching someone on the arm or hand is a powerful form of compassion.
- call the bereaved just to see how s/he's doing.
- send a card or note. They are touching gestures. A few well-chosen, handwritten words are immeasurably moving.
- make specific offers. Someone who is grieving is usually too distraught and distracted to think of asking someone for help, so extend an offer and make it specific. "Let me take you to lunch," "Do you need me to care for your kitties while you're gone?" "Can I water your plants?" "Why don't I come over this weekend and help you go through Jane's things?" Offer to baby-sit. Bring over some baked goods. Take the person to lunch. It will more than likely be gratefully accepted.
- ask the bereaved open-ended questions: "How are you doing?" "Tell me about your loved one."
- be a good listener. Listen reflectively, which means respond in ways that let the person know you have heard what she said, and have some empathy for what she's feeling. When the bereaved says, "Oh, it's hard," respond by saying, "I know it must be." If she says, "Oh, I seem to be okay today," reply with "I hope so." Tell her you care.
- allow and accept silence when you inquire after the bereaved's well-being. He may have a hard time formulating his thoughts into words. Honor the silence and don't fill in the space with empty prattle.
- let them cry. A lot of people are uncomfortable if someone cries. But just letting someone who's grieving get teary and choked up, without trying to change the subject or even make some awkward attempt at comfort, can help in the healing process.