How Do You Comfort Others After Death?

When someone or a family loses a loved one, you want to offer words of sympathy and encouragement but you may not know where and how to start. You may be at loss or feel awkward on what to say and do when someone you care about is grieving. You are afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing, or making someone feel even worse. Or you are thinking of better ways to assuage their mournful disposition.

You may not completely or immediately erase the sadness and pain of someone grieving, or can take their departed loved ones back, at least you can provide them with comfort and support that they need.

There are good and sensitive ways to comfort a bereaved person you care about. You must also expect and get ready to face several ceratin psychological reactions from the bereaved, caused by the pain of losing someone:

1. Listen with compassion

Listen even when the bereaved you care about doesn’t say anything. The bereaved may go over and over the last days or some moments of a person’s life with someone he or she lost. While you should never force him or her to open up, it’s important to let the bereaved know that it’s all right and permissible to talk about the loss.

Talk candidly about the deceased person, and don’t move away from the subject one’s the deceased’s name is being mentioned. When all seems appropriate, ask questions such as “Do you feel like talking?” This will make you sensitive without appearing too nosy — and will be most likely for the person to openly express his or her feelings.

Sometimes, the person may not talk too much or not talk altogether, but he or she will still need you to be there. Be willing to just be there — without saying a word. You have to have lots of patience for this.

2. Know the five stages of grief

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who has conducted a number of studies with people who mourned for their loved ones, set up a model of someone grieving goes through, and that the comforter should be aware of. These five stages of grief are, in order of progression:

  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Someone who will be comforting the bereaved should be ready understand the situation, accept these stages, and gently and sensitively help the bereaved through them.

3. Remember and understand that everyone grieves differently

You should realize that there are no rules for grieving. There is no single way bereaved persons should grieve, and there is no recommended length of time for grieving. While some mourn for years, others have intense but otherwise short period of grieving. Still, other people may not appear to be grieving at all, but they’re mentally dealing with the loss and doing such in the shortest moments.

Fear, guilt, anger, and despair are commonly associated with grieving. Remember that there is no right or wrong way of grieving, so don’t pressure someone to grieve in this or that manner. Accept and expect that people who are in the mourning stage may display extreme emotions or behaviors.

4. Offer practical assistance by helping them meet their daily needs

Most grieving people will be having a difficult time to do the things — even routine things — that they used to do before. People in this mourning stage, especially when their loved ones have just died, may neglect taking care of their own selves. They may not eat or shower. The most usual way of offering help to someone is cooking food and bringing it to them. This will give the bereaved direct aid as well as emotional comfort.

There are other ways to help attend to the bereaved’s needs such as answering mail, shopping for them, looking after their pets, and other simple everyday household tasks. Keep in mind that the bereaved may not have the energy or the motivation to call you or ask for your help when he or she needs something, so it’s important that you take the initiative to check in.

5. Provide ongoing support

Grieving continues long after the funeral is over. Mourning varies from one person to another, but for most people grief lasts much longer than expected. Your friend or relative may need your support for months or even years. Don’t ever assume that, after the funeral is long over, the person may look OK on the outside but he or she is still suffering inside, so don’t say things like “You are a strong person.” This will put pressure on the bereaved to keep up appearances that will hide their true feelings.

Another, you must accept the fact that the bereaved person will never be the same again after the death of a loved one. The bereaved may accept the loss and return to do the things they used to do before, and the sadness may lessen in intensity over months or years. But the pain of loss and sadness will never completely go away.

Continue your support to the grieving person by keeping in touch with them, periodically checking in, visiting them, sending them cards and mails. You should also offer extra support in certain special days like birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries because. These days will be particularly difficult for them to celebrate as they will rekindle their grief and feel alone. Let the person know that you’re there for them on these occasions.

6. Watch for warning signs

It’s usual that after a death of a loved one, a person may feel depressed, confused, withdrawn, or going crazy. But if these usual behaviors of the grieving person don’t start to fade — or even get worse with time — this would be a sign that a person’s normal grief has grown into more serious problem.

He or she may be suffering from a clinical depression. If a person is focusing too much on death, neglecting his or her well-being, starts abusing himself or herself with drugs or alcohol, constantly feeling hopeless or anger and guilt, and most of all, talking about dying or suicide — these are the red flags you should not ignore! Encourage the bereaved to seek professional help if one or any of these warning signs arise (especially if it’s been over two months since the death), before it’s too late.