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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grief 101: Guidelines for Witnesses

In memory of Mark, Sept 1965-Sept 2010,  Ansel, Sept 1985-March 2006, and Dave, Aug 1952- July 2002

Rule Number One:  There are no rules.
Everyone grieves differently.  It's an American desire to put a time-line or a formula on grief; to tie it up in a neat little package and put it to bed.  There are some relatively predictable phenomena, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross outlined in her stages of grief writings.  But even these are individualized-- people will bounce back and forth between stages, revisit them at different developmental stages, skip some completely.  Grief is as individual as we are.

That leaves us with guidelines, not rules.  Here are some:

How do you support the grieving? 
However they wish.
Some people need space.  Some need you there.  Sometimes they don't even know what they need.  Just show up, and follow their cues.  Best thing, when possible, is anticipate needs and take care of them, within reason.  Bring food, offer rides and rooms to visitors, leave lists of people family can call to take care of last minute necessities such as errand runs and chores.
Listen without judgment.
People react to the shock of grief in many ways, sometimes many ways within minutes-- laughing, being quiet, crying, reminiscing, being angry at being left. All are "appropriate" in the moment.  Don't push them to talk but don't be afraid of acknowledging what is happening and what they are feeling.  Don't push your agenda on what you think they should be feeling or talking about.
Remember that grief lasts a long time.  The grieving person is usually surrounded by others in the first few days.  It's later when they may really need your help. Acknowledge important events such as anniversaries.  Know that the first year is the first anniversary of everything since the loss-- the first particular season, the first holiday, the first birthday alone.  Let them know they are loved and their loved ones remembered.

A few don'ts:  Don't make them talk if they don't want, or try to force them to accept things they aren't yet ready to think about.  They will talk in their time.  Denial is nature's way of protecting our tender hearts while we are taking in realities that are very difficult.  Give denial room to work.
Don't tell them this is God's will or it was just this person's time unless they are already putting forth their belief in that.  If that comforts you, fine.  It may not be a comfort to them, and may feel like an invalidation of their own natural anger or right to sadness.
If you don't know what to say, just let them know you are there and you love them.
Don't berate yourself for being scared of doing it wrong, facing them in their grief, not knowing what to say.  All this is very common.
Similarly, be mindful that what you say to or do for them is for them, not for you.  What comforts you may not be what they need.
If possible, don't avoid them because it discomforts you.  That's your stuff, and this is a time to put it away to help others who really need you.

In short:  let them know you love them and are there.

Quotes of the day:
To live in hearts we leave behind 
Is not to die.
~Thomas Campbell, "Hallowed Ground"

Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.   --Kahlil Gibran

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.  --Stewart Alsop

I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived. --Willa Cather

Poems of the day:
If Death is Kind 

Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning, 
We will come back to earth some fragrant night, 
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea, 
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.

--Sara Teasdale 
Gone and Dust
When we have done our
and left
what will remain of us?
Certainly a statistic,
 and a number,
or maybe if you're lucky
a memory inside a head
or two.
He used a tool
and dug in deep
to leave a mark
that would last longer than
he would.
   --Anselin Reed

Video of the day:  Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these words. They are helping me today as I grieve the loss of our dear friend Laura who just left us. I know I will return to these pages in days and years to come to seek the same help.