Introduction: Dealing With Death--Helping Someone Grieve
People do not like to think about death. But, it can come at any age. You may be faced with helping someone grieve when you least expect it.
I have been a pastor since 1972. I have sometimes had as many as 15 funerals in one year. This Instructable will share some things to do when helping a friend through grief. It will also share some available resources.
(The illustrations used in this Instructable have been shamelessly stolen without attribution from Google Images.)
Step 1: We Expect Death for the Aged.
When people become advanced in age we observe certain declines in their function and we know they will die one day. Both of my parents died within the last 10 years. They each experienced several years of deteriorating health. We all became very much aware they would die one day and had time to prepare for it mentally. In both cases, I found myself praying that God would take them soon and end their difficulties. Still, there is some grieving.
Step 2: Teens Die, Too.
The second funeral I remember attending was for a fellow high school student who died in a traffic accident. I was 16 years old. Such things were not supposed to happen.
Step 3: Grief Stages
You may have heard there are four stages of grief people have identified. The graphic is self-explanatory. Acceptance does not mean the grieving person forgets about the one who has died, but that he or she is able to go on with life and function normally again. The one who has died will be remembered and there will be a sense of loss felt, but grief does not hobble normal life.
We tend to allow people a few weeks and imagine they are over their grief. In reality, aspects of grief persist for between 2 and 10 years. If we find ourselves helping someone with grief, we need to remember it lasts longer than we think.
A college friend lived in the same small town where we lived and served a church in the next town. His children and ours played together. We all often socialized together on Friday evenings. One day I got a call that the old car he was restoring had fallen on him and he was dead. My experience with grieving over him was waves of sadness that suddenly and unexpectedly wash over you when you least expect it. In time they became less intense and less frequent.
Sometimes people become stuck in one of the stages of grief and do not advance to the next stage. They will likely need to talk with a professional counselor.
Step 4: You Feel Helpless.
When faced with the grief of someone close to you, you feel so very helpless. You probably want to fix the situation. But, you cannot take away the other person's grief. Do not even try. And, do not tell the other person you know just how they feel. You do not.
If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Women are especially good at holding one another up literally and figuratively. Let the person grieving lead.
One of the first experiences I had with a grieving family as a pastor involved someone I had met only once. The man died unexpectedly at home in the bathroom. I went to be with them and said virtually nothing. I think I read a Psalm and said a short prayer, but mostly, I just sat there. Months later the widow said to me, "We know you did not know what to say. But it helped a lot that you were there." If you can be available, it helps a lot.
You have probably heard of Hospice. They have a saying, "People do not mind dying. They just do not want to die alone." People know they must experience grief, they just do not want to do it alone.
Step 5: Learn to Listen
You may be a good listener naturally. If so, you are unusual. When most of us do not know what to say, we talk more. Ask some friends to tell you if you need to improve your listening skills.
One of the better resources for listening is the book Listening and Caring Skills for Ministry by John Savage. Although Savage writes for churches and church people, there is nothing in the book that is particularly "churchy." It is really quite general. No matter how much experience or training you have had with active listening, you will learn some new and very helpful things from Savage.
Talking is therapeutic for the person in grief. Talking is a necessary way of working through one's grief. If you can be a good listener, you can help a great deal.
Step 6: Another Very Good Resource
Many years ago someone gave me a copy of To Everything There Is a Season from Kairos Publishing. You can find Kairos on-line at www.kairospublishing.org.
Kairos specializes in helps for people in grief, and for those who are with them while they are grieving. This booklet is very well written and people receive it very well. While it is Christian, it could be used beneficially by anyone. The author understands the grieving process very well and is very helpful. As a pastor, I keep a good supply of these booklets on my shelf at all times. Your grieving friend will appreciate this booklet.
Step 7: Support Groups
Funeral homes are not just for funerals. Most funeral homes now offer help for care after the funeral in the form of support groups for people who recently lost loved ones. Although you can be a big help to a grieving friend, no one understands and can help like someone who is experiencing the very same things. Call your local funeral home and ask about grief support groups they might be sponsoring and when those groups meet. A local Hospice office can also put you in contact with a grief support group.
Step 8: Anniversary Dates
Certain dates on the calendar will be hard for a grieving person. If someone lost a spouse, the day of their wedding anniversary will be a difficult day. The birthday of the one who died will be a hard day for the grieving survivor, and probably the birthday of the one grieving, too. Holidays, like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving will be difficult times. Another difficult day is the anniversary of the person's death. You may even notice changes in mood and behavior as one of these dates approaches. These are times for you to be especially aware and available. John Savage (Step 5) writes a great deal about anniversary stories. It is important to let the grieving person tell these stories and important for you to listen to them. You may not at first even sense the reason why the story is important.
As a pastor I make a note in my electronic scheduler when someone dies and put that note one year into the future. When that note surfaces in my calendar a year later, I try to phone the survivor. I do not need to say much. I just say I noticed it has been a year since the loved one died. Then the survivor begins talking. The call does not take long, but the survivor thanks me very appreciatively. It means a lot that someone remembered.
Above all, do not panic when you suddenly find yourself helping someone through grief. You have the opportunity to be of more help than you know.