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Some Suggestions for Easing the Burdens of Loved Ones after a Loss

When a friend or family member loses a loved one, you can find it difficult to know what to say and do. You want to provide support, but it’s a difficult time. Often, words or actions that come from a genuine desire to help can just exacerbate the pain of a loss. Here are some recommendations to help you along the path, some dos and don’ts to help you be a real source of comfort.

Things You Should Do or Say

  • Do or say something—Don’t be afraid to express your condolences or give the person a hug, fearing that you’ll only remind them of their loss. Keep it simple, but do or say something. In times of loss, it’s extremely important to know that others care about you and your pain.
  • Listen—Once you’ve reached out, become an observer. If the grieving person doesn’t want to discuss the matter any further, they’ll let you know. Let them move things in whatever direction they choose. If they’re quiet, they’re probably done. Be willing to have a very short conversation and then leave.
  • Remember that there’s no specific way to do this—You don’t have to send flowers, bring a casserole, send a sympathy card. Be willing to show someone you’re thinking of them in your own way. It might be with tickets to a concert, a spa visit or a book or two.
  • Be willing to acknowledge their pain or sense of loss—It’s a big change when you lose someone. It can be really helpful when others indicate that they understand the full impact of the death on your life.
  • Help them find support from someone who is or has recently had a similar experience—This is infinitely better than saying “I know how you feel,” unless you have just had a similar type of loss. If your friend or loved one has just lost a spouse, it can be emotionally and practically beneficial to see how someone else is dealing with a comparable loss. Don’t ever do this, though, without first asking them if they think this would be helpful.
  • Understand that little things can be big—Every attempt to help does not need to be a grand gesture. A text message every now and then, a phone call or e-mail, or stopping by with bagels and coffee once or twice. The cumulative impact of a lot of small acts can be far more meaningful than a couple intensive interactions.
  • Be honest, but sensitive, in your choice of words—In almost every situation, it’s better for everyone to avoid all the euphemisms and simply say that someone died. That being said, there can be times when someone is still having difficulty accepting the finality of death, and it’s not your task to set them through that situation. Pay attention—if using words like “death” and “died” cause a lot of pain, find other words that don’t.

Some of the Things You Don’t Want to Do or Say

  • Don’t diminish the loss—This may stem from your own pain in seeing another person suffer, or it may simply be an attempt to mask your discomfort with death, but it really doesn’t help. That’s not to say that you can’t focus on positive memories or the joy the person brought, but don’t focus only on past positive events. That can often amplify the loss.
  • Don’t overdramatize the loss, either—Statements like “I don’t know how you’ll live without him” serve no purpose, but ultimately deny the truth of the situation. The person you are attempting to comfort will have to find a way to move forward.
  • Don’t ever compare their experience with any experience you’ve had—ever!—Every person’s experience is different. Don’t use phrases like “I know how you feel” or “I understand,” because you almost never do. Even if you did, that doesn’t help. What helps the other person is to know that care about them and that you love them.
  • Don’t avoid the subject—If you encounter someone in public and have not had an opportunity to express your condolences, don’t assume that they don’t want to be consoled, or that they assume you care. Tell them that you’re sorry for their loss, even if it’s the only thing you say. That’s usually enough.
  • Resist the urge to make the loss a part of God’s plan—In the first place, the person may not be a person of faith. If they are, they may be trying to understand how their loved one’s death fits in with their faith.
  • Ask, don’t tell—Ask them how they are doing, instead of telling them “you look great” or “you look like you’re taking this really hard.” That’s all subjective interpretation. They may not feel that way at all, or may have no clear idea of how they feel. Anyway, there’s no timetable for grief…don’t make them feel like they’re working through their grief too quickly or too slowly.

We’ll Be There For You in Times of Loss

At Gutterman’s, we provide comprehensive and compassionate funeral home services to individuals and families in New York and Florida. For guidance after the death of a loved one, or to learn about the ways that we can be of service to you, call our offices at one of the numbers provided below. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.