Archive for Grief & Friends

Helping a Friend in Grief

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

A friend has experienced the death of someone loved. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

Listen with your heart.

Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you.

Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand.

Be compassionate.

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how he or she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helper role as someone who “walks with,” not “behind” or “in front of” the one who is mourning.

Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. Enter into your friend’s feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid clichés.

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time heals all wounds,” “Think of all you still have to be thankful for” or “Just be happy that he’s out of his pain” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Understand the uniqueness of grief.

Keep in mind that your friend’s grief is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in their own unique lives.

Because the grief experience is also unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your friend to proceed at his or her own pace. Don’t force your own timetable for healing. Don’t criticize what you believe is inappropriate behavior. And while you should create opportunities for personal interaction, don’t force the situation if your grieving friend resists.

Offer practical help.

Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or answering the telephone are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care. And, just as with your presence, this support is needed at the time of the death and in the weeks and months ahead.

Make contact.

Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support grieving friends and family. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say.

Don’t just attend the funeral then disappear, however. Remain available in the weeks and months to come, as well. Remember that your grieving friend may need you more later on than at the time of the funeral. A brief visit or a telephone call in the days that follow are usually appreciated.

Write a personal note.

Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal written words. What do you say? Share a favorite memory of the person who died. Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will often be a loving gift to your grieving friend, words that will be reread and remembered for years.

Use the name of the person who has died either in your personal note or when you talk to your friend. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your friend’s life.

Be aware of holidays and anniversaries.

Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most importantly, never try to take away the hurt.

Your friend and the family of the person who died sometimes create special traditions surrounding these events. Your role? Perhaps you can help organize such a remembrance or attend one if you are invited.

Understanding the importance of the loss.

Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping a grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love that you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. By ‘walking with’ your friend in grief, you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts–yourself.

 

Helping a Man Who is Grieving

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

A man you care about is grieving. Someone he loved has died and you would like to help him during this difficult time. This brochure will help you know what to do and say as you offer your love and companionship to your friend.

Men feel the need to be strong.

Even in the face of tragic loss, many men in our society still feel the need to be self-contained, stoic and to express little or no outward emotion. It is very much in vogue today to encourage men to openly express their feelings, but in practice few men do so. The outward expression of grief is called mourning. All men grieve when someone they love dies, but if they are to heal, they must also mourn.

You can help by offering a “safe place” for your friend to mourn. Tell him you’d like to help. Offer to listen whenever he wants to talk. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you. Let him know that in your presence at least, it’s OK for him to express whatever feelings he might have-sadness, anger, guilt, fear. Around you, he doesn’t have to be strong because you will offer support without judgment.

Men feel the need to be active.

The grief experience naturally creates a turning inward and slowing down on the part of the mourner, a temporary self-focus that is vital to the ultimate healing process. Yet for many men this is threatening. Masculinity is equated with striving, moving and activity. Many grieving men throw themselves into their work in an attempt to distract themselves from their painful feelings.

Maybe you can offer your friend both activity and time for reflection. Ask him to shoot hoops or play golf. Go for a hike or fishing with your friend. Let him know that you really want to hear how he’s doing, how he’s feeling. In the context of these activities he just might share some of his innermost thoughts.

Active problem-solving is another common male response to grief. If a father’s child dies of SIDS, for example, the father may become actively involved in fundraising for SIDS research. A husband whose wife is killed may focus on the legal circumstances surrounding the death. Such activities can be healing for grieving men and should be encouraged.

Men feel the need to be protectors.

Men are generally thought of as the “protectors” of the family. They typically work to provide their spouses and children with a warm, safe home, safe transportation and good medical care. So when a member of his family dies, the “man of the house” may feel guilty. No matter how out of his control the death was, the man may feel deep down that he has failed at protecting the people in his care.

If your friend expresses such thoughts, you will probably feel the need to reassure him that the death was not his fault. Actually, you may help your friend more by just listening and trying to understand. By allowing him to talk about his feelings of failure, you are helping him to work through these feelings in his own way and his own time.

It’s OK for men to grieve differently.

We’ve said that men feel the need to be strong and active in the face of grief. Such responses are OK as long as your friend isn’t avoiding his feelings altogether. It’s also OK for men to feel and express rage, to be more cognitive or analytical about the death, to not cry. All of these typically masculine responses to grief may help your friend heal; there is no one “right” way to mourn a death.

Avoid clichés.

Sometimes words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for mourners. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Men are often told “You’ll get over this” or “Don’t worry, you and Susie (can) have another child” or “Think about the good times.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish a very real and very painful loss.

Make contact.

Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support your grieving friend. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug communicates more than words could ever say.

But don’t just attend the funeral then disappear. Remain available afterwards as well. Grief is a process, and it may take your friend years to reconcile himself to his new life. Remember that your grieving friend may need you more in the weeks and months after the funeral than at the time of the death.

Be aware of holidays and other significant days.

Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and other significant days, such as the birthday of the person who died and the anniversary of the death. These events emphasize the person’s absence. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process.

These are appropriate times to visit your friend or write a note or simply give him a quick phone call. Your ongoing support will be appreciated and healing.

Watch for warning signs.

Men who deny and repress their real feelings of grief may suffer serious long-term problems. Among these are:

  • chronic depression, withdrawal and low self-esteem
  • deterioration in relationships with friends and family
  • physical complaints such as headaches, fatigue and backaches
  • chronic anxiety, agitation and restlessness
  • chemical abuse or dependence
  • indifference toward others, insensitivity and workaholism

If you see any of these symptoms in your friend, talk to him about your concern. Find helping resources for him in his community, such as support groups and grief counselors. You can’t force your friend to seek help but you can make it easier for him to seek help.

Understand the importance of the loss.

Always remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be compassionate and available in the weeks and months to come.

“Helping a friend in grief is a difficult task. Helping a man in grief can be especially difficult, so few friends follow through in their desire to help. I encourage you to stand by your friend during this painful time. Your ongoing presence, patience and support will help him more than you will ever know.”

 

Helping a Friend Who Is Dying

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Your friend is dying. This is an extremely difficult time not only for you, but for your friend and all who care about him. This article will guide you in ways to help your friend-and yourself-during the last days of his life.

When a Friend is Dying

Someone you care deeply about is dying. Confronting this difficult reality for yourself is the first step you can take to help your dying friend.

You will probably come to accept the fact of your friend’s impending death over time, and it may not be until she actually dies that you fully and finally acknowledge the reality. This is normal.

For now, though, try to accept the reality of your friend’s medical condition, if only with your head. You will later come to accept it with your heart.

Give the Gift of Presence

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your dying friend is the gift of your presence. Particularly if you live nearby, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your support by being there, literally, when your friend needs you most. Visit your friend at the hospital or at home-not just once, but throughout the remainder of her days. Rent a movie and bring popcorn. Play cards or Monopoly. Sit with her and watch the snow fall. Your simple presence will say to your friend, “I am willing to walk this difficult road with you and face with you whatever comes.”

Do respect your friend’s need for alone time, though, and realize that her deteriorating physical condition may leave her with little energy. She may not be up for company all the time.

Be a Good Listener

Your friend may want to openly discuss her illness and impending death, or he may avoid discussing it. The key is to follow your friend’s lead. Keep in mind that your friend will experience this illness in his own unique way.

Allow your friend to talk about his illness at his own pace. And while you can be a “safe harbor” for your friend to explain his thoughts and feelings, don’t force the situation if he resists.

If you can listen well, you can help your friend cope during this difficult time. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words your friend is sharing with you.

Learn About Your Friend’s Illness

“People can cope with what they know, but they cannot cope with what they don’t know,” I often say. You will be better equipped to help your friend if you take it upon yourself to learn about his illness. Consult medical reference books at your local library. Request information from educational associations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Heart Association. With your friend’s consent, you might also talk to his physician.

If you educate yourself about the illness and its probably course, you will be a more understanding listener when he wants to talk. You will also be more prepared for the reality of the illness’s last stages.

Be Compassionate

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings about the illness without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how he or she should respond. Think of yourself as someone who “walks with” not “behind” or “in front of” the dying person.

Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Comments like, “This is God’s will” or “Just be happy you have had a good life” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make your friend’s experience with terminal illness more difficult. If you feel the need to console your friend, simply tell him he is loved.

Offer Practical Help

Your dying friend will probably need help with the activities of daily living. Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or driving your friend to and from the hospital for treatment are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care.

Stay in Touch

If you are unable to visit your sick friend due to distance or other circumstances, write a note. What do you say? Tell your friend how much she means to you. Reminisce about some of the fun times you’ve shared. Promise you’ll write to her again soon-and then follow through on that promise. Avoid sending a generic greeting card unless you’ve personalized it with a heartfelt message.

If you’re not comfortable writing, consider sending video- or audio-taped “notes” to your friend. Or simpler yet, pick up the phone.

Get Support for Yourself

Someone you care deeply about is dying and will soon be gone. Odds are you will need support, too, as you explore your own feelings about this illness and the changes you see in your friend. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment as you talk out your own feelings. And don’t forget to take good care of yourself. Eat nutritious meals. Get ample rest. Continue to exercise. Spend time doing things that make you happy.

Many hospices offer support groups for friends and family of the dying-both before and after the death itself. Take advantage of these compassionate resources.

Realize Your Own Limitations

Not everyone can offer ongoing, supportive friendship to someone who is dying. If you feel you simply can’t cope with the situation, try to understand your reticence and learn from it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so uncomfortable with this?” and “What can I do to become a more open, compassionate friend in times of need?”

Do not, however, avoid your friend altogether. People with terminal illnesses are often abandoned by friends and family, leaving them lonely and depressed. Phone rather than visit. Write if you can’t bring yourself to phone. Let your friend know that this situation is difficult for you while at the same time acknowledging that your friend’s fears and needs come first.

On the other end of the helping spectrum, don’t become obsessed with your friend’s illness or feel that you must be her only means of support. Do not emotionally overburden yourself.

Embrace Your Own Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you during this difficult time. Pray for your friend and your friend’s family if prayer is meaningful to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of your friend’s illness, that’s OK. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

Seek Hope and Healing

After your friend dies, you must mourn if you are to love and live wholly again. You cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

 

Helping a Friend Who Is Seriously Ill

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

A friend is seriously ill. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

Give the Gift of Presence

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your seriously ill friend is the gift of your presence. Particularly if you live nearby, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your support by being there, literally, when your friend needs you most. Visit your friend at the hospital or at home-not just once, but throughout the course of the illness. Rent a movie and bring popcorn. Play cards or Monopoly. Sit with her and watch the snow fall. Your simple presence will say to your friend, “I am willing to walk this difficult road with you and face with you whatever comes.”

Do respect your friend’s need for alone time, though, and realize that her treatment may zap her energy. She may not be up for company all the time.

Be a Good Listener

Your friend may want to openly discuss his illness, or he may avoid discussing it. The key is to follow your friend’s lead. Keep in mind that your friend will experience this illness in his own unique way.

Allow your friend to talk about his illness at his own pace. And while you can be a “safe harbor” for your friend to explain his thoughts and feelings, don’t force the situation if your ill friend resists.

If you can listen well, you can help your friend cope during this difficult time. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words your friend is sharing with you.

Learn About Your Friend’s Illness

“People can cope with what they know, but they cannot cope with what they don’t know,” I often say. You will be better equipped to help your friend if you take it upon yourself to learn about his illness. Visit your local library and consult the medical reference books. Request information from educational associations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Heart Association. With your friend’s consent, you might also talk to his physician.

If you educate yourself about the illness and its treatments, you will be a more understanding listener when he wants to talk. While you shouldn’t inappropriately intervene in his medical care, you might also be a more effective advocate.

Be Compassionate

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings about the illness without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how he or she should respond. Think of yourself as someone who “walks with” not “behind” or “in front of” the person who is seriously ill.

Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Comments like, “This is God’s will,” “Just be happy you are doing as well as you are” or “It could be worse” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make your friend’s experience with serious illness more difficult.

Offer Practical Help

Your sick friend will probably need help with the activities of daily living. Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or driving your friend to and from the hospital for treatment are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care.

Stay in Touch

If you are unable to visit your sick friend due to distance or other circumstances, write a note. What do you say? Tell your friend how much she means to you. Reminisce about some of the fun times you’ve shared. Promise you’ll write to her again soon-and then follow through on that promise. Avoid sending a generic greeting card unless you’ve personalized it with a heartfelt message.

If you’re not comfortable writing, consider sending video- or audio-taped “notes” to your friend. Or simpler yet, pick up the phone.

Get Support for Yourself

Someone you care deeply about is seriously ill. Odds are you will need support, too, as you explore your own feelings about this illness and the changes you see in your friend. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment as you talk out your own feelings. And don’t forget to take good care of yourself. Eat nutritious meals. Get ample rest. Continue to exercise. Spend time doing things that make you happy.

Realize Your Own Limitations

Not everyone can offer ongoing, supportive friendship to someone who is seriously ill. If you feel you simply can’t cope with the situation, try to understand your reticence and learn from it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so uncomfortable with this?” and “What can I do to become a more open, compassionate friend in times of need?”

Do not, however, avoid your friend altogether. People with serious illnesses are often abandoned by friends and family, leaving them lonely and depressed. Phone rather than visit. Write if you can’t bring yourself to phone. Let your friend know that this situation is difficult for you while at the same time acknowledging that your friend’s fears and needs come first.

On the other end of the helping spectrum, don’t become obsessed with your friend’s illness or feel that you must be her only means of support. Do not emotionally overburden yourself.

Embrace Your Own Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you during this difficult time. Pray for your friend and your friend’s family if prayer is meaningful to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of your friend’s illness, that’s OK. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

A Final Word

Your friend needs you now more than ever. At a time when words are inadequate, offer your presence whenever you can. I use three phrases to remind myself of my role as a caring, compassionate friend: Mouth closed. Ears open. Presence available.

 

Helping a Suicide Survivor Heal

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, “There are always two parties to a death; the person who dies and the survivors who are bereaved.” Unfortunately, many survivors of suicide suffer alone and in silence. The silence that surrounds them often complicates the healing that comes from being encouraged to mourn.

Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, survivors feel the pain of the loss, yet may not know how, or where, or if, they should express it. Yet, the only way to heal is to mourn. Just like other bereaved persons grieving the loss of someone loved, suicide survivors need to talk, to cry, sometimes to scream, in order to heal.

As a result of fear and misunderstanding, survivors of suicide deaths are often left with a feeling of abandonment at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding. Without a doubt, suicide survivors suffer in a variety of ways; one, because they need to mourn the loss of someone who has died; two, because they have experienced a sudden, typically unexpected traumatic death; and three, because they are often shunned by a society unwilling to enter into the pain of their grief.

How Can You Help?

If you want to help a friend or family member who has experienced the death of someone loved from suicide, this article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief

Grief following a suicide is always complex. Survivors don’t “get over it.” Instead, with support and understanding, they can come to reconcile themselves to its reality. Don’t be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. Sometimes, when they least suspect it, they may be overwhelmed by feelings of grief. Accept that survivors may be struggling with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame-all well beyond the limits experienced in other types of death. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Listen with Your Heart

Assisting suicide survivors means you must break down the terribly costly silence. Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Willingness to listen is the best way to offer help to someone who needs to talk.

Thoughts and feelings inside the survivor may be frightening and difficult to acknowledge. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand. And, remember, you don’t have to have the answers to his or her questions. Simply listening is enough.

Avoid Simplistic Explanations and Clichés

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a suicide survivor. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time will heal all wounds,” “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” or “You have to be strong for others” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Be certain to avoid passing judgment or providing simplistic explanations of the suicide. Don’t make the mistake of saying the person who suicided was “out of his or her mind.” Informing a survivor that someone they loved was “crazy or insane” typically only complicates the situation. Suicide survivors need help in coming to their own search for understanding of what has happened. In the end, their personal search for meaning and understanding of the death is what is really important.

Be Compassionate

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend. Don’t instruct or set explanations about how he or she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helping role as someone who “walks with,” not “behind” or “in front of” the one who is bereaved.

Familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of emotions that many survivors of suicide experience. Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. And recognize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the loss.

Respect the Need to Grieve

Often ignored in their grief are the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses and children of persons who have suicided. Why? Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed.

As a caring friend, you may be the only one willing to be with the survivors. Your physical presence and permissive listening create a foundation for the healing process. Allow the survivors to talk, but don’t push them. Sometimes, you may get a cue to back off and wait. If you get a signal that this is what is needed, let them know you are ready to listen if, and when, they want to share their thoughts and feelings.

Understand the Uniqueness of Suicide Grief

Keep in mind that the grief of suicide survivors is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by survivors, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in his or her life.

Because the grief experience is unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your friend to proceed at his or her own pace. Don’t criticize what is inappropriate behavior. Remember that the death of someone to suicide is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction.

Be Aware of Holidays and Anniversaries

Survivors of suicide may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died. Respect this pain as a natural expression of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most importantly, never try to take the hurt away.

Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors. Hearing the name can be comforting and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of their lives.

Be Aware of Support Groups

Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors of suicide. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Respect Faith and Spirituality

If you allow them, a survivor of suicide will “teach you” about their feelings regarding faith and spirituality. If faith is a part of their lives, let them express it in ways that seem appropriate. If they are mad at God, encourage them to talk about it.

Remember, having anger at God speaks of having a relationship with God. Don’t be a judge, be a loving friend.

Survivors may also need to explore how religion may have complicated their grief. They may have been taught that persons who take their own lives are doomed to hell. Your task is not to explain theology, but to listen and learn. Whatever the situation, your presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools.

Work Together as Helpers

Friends and family who experience the death of someone to suicide must no longer suffer alone and in silence. As helpers, you need to join with other caring persons to provide support and acceptance for survivors who need to grieve in healthy ways.

To experience grief is the result of having loved. Suicide survivors must be guaranteed this necessity. While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping a suicide survivor heal will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love than you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it.

 

Helping a Homicide Survivor Heal

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

A friend has experienced the sudden, violent death of someone they love. You want to help, but aren’t sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

Traumatic and Violent Death

Death by homicide creates overwhelming grief for survivors. Their world has been turned upside down. Nothing in life prepares survivors for the reality that someone they love has died a violent death.

Murder results in survivors grieving not only the death, but how the person died. A life has been cut short through an act of cruelty. The disregard for human life adds overwhelming feelings of turmoil, distrust, injustice and helplessness to normal sense of loss and sorrow.

Murder and Social Stigma

Survivors of murder victims enter into a world that is not understood by most people. A sad reality is that members of a community where a tragic murder has occurred sometimes blame the victim or survivors. Out of a need to protect themselves from their own personal feelings of vulnerability, some people reason that what has happened has to be somebody’s fault. This need to “place blame” is projected in an effort to fight off any thoughts that such a tragedy would ever happen to them.

As a result of this fear and misunderstanding, survivors of homicide deaths are often left feeling abandoned at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding. Without a doubt, homicide survivors suffer in a variety of ways: one, because they need to mourn the loss of someone who has died; two, because they have experienced a sudden, traumatic death; and three, because they are often shunned by a society unwilling to enter into the pain of their grief.

Allow For Numbness

Feeling dazed or numb is a good thing for your friend. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives emotions time to catch up with what the mind has been told. Nothing in one’s coping mechanisms prepares survivors for this kind of trauma. Shock is like an anesthetic-it helps create insulation from the reality of the death until your friend is more able to tolerate what he or she doesn’t want to believe.

Don’t assume your friend is “being strong and taking it well” when he or she is really in shock. They may appear strong, but early on in grief, their appearance reflects their numbness and disbelief. However, they need you now, and will particularly need you when the shock begins to wear off and reality sets in. Let your friend move at his or her own pace. It is damaging to try to push someone through shock and numbness. By “walking with” your friend at his or her own pace, you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts-yourself.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief

Grief following a murder is always complex. Survivors don’t “get over it.” Instead, with support and understanding they can come to reconcile themselves to its reality. Don’t be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. In light of what has happened, it is only natural that they are in pain. Accept that survivors may be struggling with a multitude of emotions more intense then those experienced after other types of death. Confusion, disorganization, fear, vulnerability, guilt or anger are just a few of the emotions survivors may feel.

Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere your friend suddenly experiences surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave them feeling overwhelmed. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Don’t Be Frightened by Rage

Anger and rage responses might make you-a helping friend-feel helpless. For survivors, the sense of injustice about the nature of the death turns the normal anger of grief into rage. Remember-anger is not right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or not appropriate. In fact, rage often relates to a desire to restore things to the way they were before the death. The person to be most concerned about is probably the one who doesn’t experience rage.

The anger and rage may be directed at the murderer, at God, you, or even at the person who was killed. Your friend may even be frightened by the intensity of his or her own rage. Be willing to listen to what your friend feels without judging him or her. And do not try to diminish the anger, for it is in expressing rage that it begins to lose some of its power. Ultimately, healthy grief requires that these explosive emotions be expressed, not repressed.

Feeling Anxious and Fearful is Normal

Feelings of anxiety, panic, and fear are normal after a murder. Threats to one’s feelings of security naturally brings about these emotions. The world no longer feels as safe as it once did.

Fear of what the future holds, fear that more murders might occur, an increased awareness of one’s own mortality, feelings of vulnerability about being able to survive without the person, an inability to concentrate and emotional and physical fatigue all serve to heighten anxiety, panic and fear. Your grieving friend may feel overwhelmed by everyday problems and concerns. Your awareness of these common fears can help you anticipate some of what your friend might talk about with you.

Understand the Need to Ask “Why?”

The unanswerable question, “But, why?” naturally comes up for survivors of a traumatic, violent death. Your friend is searching to understand how something like this could happen. Understand that this is a normal question to ask in a very abnormal situation.

Your friend probably doesn’t want you to try to answer the “why?” question. He or she often realizes there is no rational explanation for the murder, yet still needs to ask the question. While you can’t provide explanations for what happened, you can stand beside your friend as he or she searches for meaning.

Be Compassionate

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how he or she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t.

Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. Enter into your friend’s feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid Clichés

Clichés, though they are often intended to diminish the pain of loss, can actually cause more pain for a grieving friend. Comments like “You are holding up so well,” “Time will heal all wounds,” or “Think of all you still have to be thankful for” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Listen to Questions About Faith

If you allow them, homicide survivors will “teach” you about their feelings regarding faith and spirituality. Many survivors will express doubt about beliefs they held before the murder. If they cannot doubt, their faith will have little meaning. Whatever you do, don’t tell your friend that the murder was “God’s will.”

Also, don’t tell your friend to forgive the murderer. No matter their spiritual convictions, survivors of homicide should not be made to feel obligated to forgive someone who killed their loved one. Don’t push your friend to forgive simply to satisfy your needs.

Be Aware of Support Groups

Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors of traumatic deaths. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share their experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like.

Do be aware that you should not push survivors to attend a group if they are not ready. We know that if they find a group unhelpful because they aren’t ready to share their grief in this way, they may be hesitant to make use of the group later, when it could help them very much.

Also, some survivors find support groups helpful and some don’t. For those who want to participate in a support group, you may be able to help them find one. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Work Together as Helpers

Remember that the murder of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. He or she will need to talk about it for years to come. Be the person who will encourage and allow your friend to share feelings about the homicide after other listeners have moved on.

Use the name of the person who was killed when you talk to your friend. Hearing the name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your friend’s life.

To experience grief is the result of having loved. Homicide survivors must be guaranteed this privilege. While the guidelines in this article may help, it is important to recognize that helping a homicide survivor heal will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time, and love than you ever knew you had. But this helping effort will be more than worth it.

 

Helping a Grandparent Who Is Grieving

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

A child or young adult has died. Everyone who loved the child is now faced with mourning this tragic, untimely death. The child’s parents are heartbroken. But what about the grandparents? How might they be feeling? How can you help them with their unique grief?

This article will guide you in ways to turn your concern for the grandparents into positive action.

Realize that a grandparent’s grief is unique.

When a grandchild dies, the grandparent often mourns the death on many levels. The grandparent probably loved the child dearly and may have been very close to him or her. The death has created a hole in the grandparent’s life that cannot be filled by anyone else. Grandparents who were not close to the child who died, perhaps because they lived far away, may instead mourn the loss of a relationship they never had.

Grieving grandparents are also faced with witnessing their child-the parent of the child who died-mourn the death. A parent’s love for a child is perhaps the strongest of all human bonds. For the parents of the child who died, the pain of grief may seem intolerable. For the grandparents, watching their own child suffer so and feeling powerless to take away the hurt can feel almost as intolerable.

Acknowledge the grandparent’s search for meaning.

When someone loved dies, we all ponder the meaning of life and death. When a child or young adult dies, this search for meaning can be especially painful. Young people aren’t supposed to die. The death violates the natural order of life and seems terribly unfair.

For grandparents, who may have lived long, rich lives already, the struggle to understand the death may bring about feelings of guilt. “Why didn’t God take me, instead?” the grandparent may ask himself. “Why couldn’t it have been me?”

Such feelings are both normal and necessary. You can help by encouraging the grandparent to talk about them.

Respect faith and spirituality.

Many people develop strong commitments to faith and spirituality as they get older. If you allow them, grieving grandparents will “teach you” about the role of faith and spirituality in their lives. Encourage them to express their faith if doing so helps them heal in grief.

Sometimes, however, faith can naturally complicate healing. The grandparent may feel angry at God for “taking” the grandchild. He then may feel guilty about his anger, because, he may reason, God is not to be questioned. Or the grandparent may struggle with feelings of doubt about God’s plan or the afterlife.

Talking with a pastor may help the grandparent, as long as the pastor allows the grandparent to honestly express her feelings of anger, guilt and sadness. No one should tell a grandparent that she shouldn’t grieve because the child has gone to heaven; mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive.

Listen with your heart.

You can begin to help by simply listening. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

The grieving grandparent may want to share the same story about the death over and over again. It’s as if talking about the death makes it a little more bearable each time. Listen attentively. Realize that this repetition is part of the grandparent’s healing process. Simply listen and try to understand.

Sometimes grandparents, especially grandfathers, don’t want to talk about the death. They may have been raised to believe that talking about feelings is frivolous or selfish or unmanly. It’s OK; they don’t have to talk. Simply spending time with them demonstrates your love and concern.

Be compassionate.

Give the grandparent permission to express her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from the granparent; don’t instruct or set expectations about she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helper role as someone who “walks with” not “behind” or “in front of” the grieving grandparent.

Allow the grandparent to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he is feeling at the time. Enter into his feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid clichés.

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving grandparent. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Grandparents are often told, “God needed another angel in heaven” or “Don’t worry, John and Susie (can) have another child” or “You have to be strong for your child.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique child.

Offer practical help.

Preparing food, washing clothes, and cleaning the house are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care. And, just as with your presence, this support is needed at the time of the death as well as in the weeks and months ahead.

Write a personal note.

Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal written words. What do you say? Share a favorite memory of the child who died. Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will be a loving gift to the grandparent, words that will be reread and remembered always.

Use the name of the child who died in your personal note and in talking to the grandparent. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important child whom the grandparent loved and misses so much.

Be aware of holidays and other significant days.

The grandparent may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and other significant days, such as the child’s birthday and the anniversary of the child’s death. These events emphasize the child’s absence. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process.

These are appropriate times to visit the grandparents or write a note or simply give them a quick phone call. Your ongoing support will be appreciated and healing.

“When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

 

Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

How Can You Help?

A friend or acquaintance in your workplace has experienced the death of someone loved. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This article will help you turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

You Have An Important Role

Your support of a fellow employee can make a real difference in how he survives right now. Being present to a co-worker in grief means you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts-yourself. Do not underestimate how your efforts to help can make a real difference for him. Your supportive presence, particularly when he is just returning to work and in the weeks and months ahead, can make an important difference in how your coworker heals.

Attending the Funeral

Even if you didn’t know the person who died, if the funeral will be local and especially if the person who died was a member of your co-worker’s immediate family, it is very appropriate for you to attend the funeral. After all, funerals are for the living, and right now your co-worker needs all the support she can get. She will appreciate your presence and acknowledgment of the loss.

Understanding Your Co-Worker’s Journey

Your coworker is faced with an overwhelming journey. While the need to mourn is normal and necessary, it is often frightening, painful, and lonely. Your coworker will not function “normally” in the workplace. Be sensitive and realize that she will have difficulty with attention, concentration, memory and lack of motivation.

Try to be patient and help out whenever you can. Increasing your knowledge about the experience of grief will help you better understand what your coworker is encountering.

Make Contact

Reach out to your coworker in grief. Do not anticipate that she will be able to reach out to you. Let her know that you are aware of her loss and that you are thinking about her. It can be very appropriate to say, “I’m sorry that your mother died, and I want you to know that I’m thinking of you.” This lets your co-worker know that you are available to listen and can be sensitive to her feelings of sadness and loss. A touch of your hand, a look in your eye, or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say. If you personally don’t know the coworker very well, join with others in sending flowers or a sympathy card.

Listen With Your Heart

If your coworker wants to talk about his grief, LISTEN. While the workplace cannot become a counseling center, listening is a small but important gift you can give. Your physical presence and commitment to listen without judging are critical helping tools.

Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Your co-worker may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen patiently. Realize that “telling the story” is how healing occurs.

Avoid Clichés

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful mourners. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Mourners are often told, “God only challenges people with what they can handle” or “Time heals all wounds” or “Think of all you still have to be thankful for.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique person.

Realize That “Griefbursts” Will Occur

Sometimes heightened periods of sadness will overwhelm the grieving person at work. These times can come out of nowhere. Sometimes all it takes to bring on a griefburst is a familiar sound, a smell, a phrase. While you may feel helpless, allow your co-worker to feel the sorrow and hurt. And realize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with death.

Don’t Be Judgmental

Some people return to work after the death of someone loved and act as if “everything is OK.” Don’t judge your coworker who returns to work quickly. Sometimes, the routine of the workplace provides comfort and support. However, do stay available should she want to share her grief at a later time.

Activate Support Systems

If appropriate, mention your co-worker’s loss and need for compassionate support to other coworkers who can offer help. The entire staff might benefit from an in-service that sensitizes then to the grief journey and how they can help support their coworker.

If You Are A Supervisor

Be careful about assigning new tasks or responsibilities right now. Flexible personnel policies will help the grieving worker survive during this naturally painful time. If you have an employee assistance program, be certain the employee is made aware of its availability.

Our society in general doesn’t always respond well to people in grief; the workplace can be even worse. You can help by acting as your grieving employee’s advocate if he needs extra time off or other special assistance. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, if the employee isn’t allowed to first attend to his grief, he may not be able to effectively attend to his work.

If The Person Who Died Was A Coworker

When someone you have worked with dies, you will be faced with grief yourself. You may find yourself thinking about him all the time. You may feel guilty, as if you could have prevented the death somehow. You may feel angry, especially if the death was sudden or untimely. You may feel vulnerable, frightened or depressed.

All of these grief feelings are normal and necessary. Find someone you can talk to, perhaps another co-worker who is experiencing the same feelings. Talk openly with family members and friends about your co-workers death.

Understanding The Significance Of The Loss

As a result of the death, your coworker’s like is under reconstruction. Keep in mind that grief is unique. No two people respond to death in exactly the same say. Be patient. Don’t force a specific timetable for healing. Be gentle, sensitive, and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

“Grief is a long, painful journey. As the friend of a grieving co-worker, you can choose to help make the journey more tolerable. Tell your co-worker how sorry you are and listen if she wants to talk. Be available to her in the difficult weeks and months ahead. Your support will help her more than you can imagine.”

 

Helping AIDS Survivors Heal

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

A friend or family member has experienced the death of someone loved from AIDS. You want to help, but are not sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

AIDS and Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is experienced when the death of someone loved is not acknowledged or socially supported. Unfortunately, still today many survivors of AIDS deaths are disenfranchised. They frequently are denied the opportunity to openly express their feelings or to be emotionally supported by friends and family.

Because of the social stigma surrounding the disease, survivors of AIDS feel the pain of the loss, yet may not know how, or where, or if, they should express it. But just like other bereaved people grieving the loss of someone loved, AIDS survivors need to talk, to cry, sometimes to scream, in order to heal.

Instead, AIDS survivors are shunned by a society already uncomfortable with death and grief. Worse yet, AIDS victims and the people who love and care for them are often blamed for exposing others to the dread disease. As a result of this fear and misunderstanding, survivors of AIDS deaths are often left with a feeling of abandonment at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding.

Recognize the Significance of Relationships

Gay male AIDS survivors, in particular, are often ignored when recognizable kinship ties do not exist. Inappropriately, society prescribes that close, meaningful relationships are only possible among immediate family. Yet, many lovers of AIDS victims have enjoyed lengthy, enriching, monogamous relationships with the person who died. Family members, however, sometimes deny the significance of that relationship.

As a helper, acknowledge the impact of the death on the bereaved lover. Let the survivor “teach you” about the meaningfulness of the relationship. Be nonjudgmental as you reach out with open ears and a loving heart.

Respect the Need to Grieve

Often ignored in their grief are the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, spouses and children of AIDS victims. Why? Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed.

As a caring friend, you may be the only one willing to be with the survivors. Your physical presence and permissive listening create a foundation for the healing process. Allow the survivors to talk, but don’t push them. Let them know you are ready to listen if, and when, they want to share their thoughts and feelings.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief

As I mentioned before, the grief of AIDS survivors is naturally complicated by society’s attitudes regarding the disease. The sad reality is that this situation magnifies the grief at a time when survivors’ typical support systems are either not available or potentially damaging. Accept that survivors may be struggling with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame well beyond the limits experienced in other types of death. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Use the Name of the Person Who Died

Use the name of the person who died when talking to AIDS survivors. Hearing the name can be comforting and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of their lives.

Respect Faith and Spirituality

If you allow them, AIDS survivors will “teach you” about their feelings regarding faith and spirituality. If faith is a part of their lives, let them express it in ways that seem appropriate. Many survivors disenfranchised in their grief rely on their spirituality as a way to find love and acceptance denied them by family and friends.

Survivors may also need to explore how religion may have complicated their grief. They may have been taught that AIDS results from sin and they may have internalized this inappropriate assumption. Whatever the situation, your presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools.

Stay Sensitive to Bereavement Overload

Many AIDS survivors will be physically, emotionally and spiritually drained from caring for someone with such a debilitating disease. And they may have experienced the loss not only of the person who died, but also the loss of friends and family who have abandoned them.

The overwhelming impact of these multiple losses demands your special awareness and sensitivity. Preparing food, washing clothes or cleaning the house are among the practical ways you can express your love and support. Remember-this support is needed not just in the first few days following the death, but also in the weeks and months ahead.

Be Patient

To help AIDS survivors, you need to have an abundance of patience. You may even become the target of their explosive emotions. Realize that the grief process takes time and allow mourners to proceed at their own pace. Don’t force your timetable for healing or set expectations about how they should respond.

If survivors become silent or remote, don’t push with questions. Turning inward is a part of healing in grief. Often total silence is absolutely necessary.

Be Aware of Holidays and Anniversaries

Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most important, never try to take the hurt away.

Sometimes special rituals and traditions of remembrance take place during these times. Memorial quilts, for example, have been created to remember those who have died of AIDS. Perhaps you can initiate such a project or plan a special ritual.

Be Aware of Support Groups

Support groups are one of the best ways to help AIDS survivors. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Work Together as Helpers

Lovers, friends and family who experience the death of someone to AIDS must no longer be disenfranchised. As helpers, you need to join with other caring persons to provide support and acceptance for survivors, who need to grieve in healthy ways if they, and we as a society, are to heal.

 

Helping SIDS Survivors Heal

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

How Can You Help?

A friend or family member has experienced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). You want to help, but are not sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into actions.

Educate Yourself About SIDS

A vital part of helping SIDS survivors is to educate yourself about the syndrome. The term itself can be difficult to comprehend. Why? Because it is really a non-definition. This clinical-sounding term doesn’t describe what doctors know, but, instead, what they don’t know. For example, a formal definition of SIDS is: the sudden death of any infant which is unexpected by history, and in which a detailed exam after death fails to find an adequate cause for the death. Essentially, no one knows what causes these deaths.

What we do know is that each year in the United States over 7,000 families experience the death of their babies to SIDS. These sudden deaths occur in apparently healthy infants, almost always while the child is asleep. This experience creates an overwhelming crisis for parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, other family members and friends.

Learning a Few More Facts

* SIDS is not hereditary. There is no greater chance for it to occur in one family than in another.

* SIDS is not caused by aspiration, regurgitation, or suffocation.

* SIDS and apnea (cessation of breathing) are two different things. Do not assume that if the baby had been on a breathing monitor, she would not have died. Remember–SIDS cannot be predicted or prevented.

* SIDS is slightly more common in the winter months, but occurs at any time of the year.

* Birth control pills do not cause SIDS.

Learning these and other facts about SIDS can help prevent harmful accusations.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief

Grief following a SIDS death is always complex. The infant has died at a time when the family is very focused on caring for him or her. The lack of knowledge about SIDS often adds to the trauma. All too often a SIDS death is not socially supported in the way other deaths are.

Some people fail to realize that despite the shortness of the infant’s life, the family’s feelings of love for him have existed since conception. Survivors are confronted with mourning not only the immediate death, but also the loss of hopes and dreams for the child’s future.

Don’t be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. Sometimes when family members least suspect it, they may be overwhelmed by grief. Accept that survivors may be struggling with feelings of guilt, anger and fear well beyond those experienced after other types of deaths. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Absence of Cause Complicates the Grief

With SIDS, the lack of a definitive cause of death makes it especially difficult for families to understand what has happened. Not knowing what caused the death, both adults and children naturally assume responsibility and guilt, even though nothing they did or didn’t do caused the death. Try to listen patiently as families explore their “If only’s” and “Why didn’t we’s.”

Legal System Complicates the Grief

Because SIDS is sudden and has no known cause, families may be confronted with an onslaught of questions from emergency medical personnel, hospital workers, medical examiners and sometimes the police. Of course, these questions are asked in an effort to protect the interests of the child, yet they can leave parents wondering if they were at fault. This necessary, but painful experience, if handled inappropriately, may place additional guilt and trauma on the family.

Listen With Your Heart

Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Willingness to listen is the best way to offer help to someone who needs to talk.

The SIDS survivors’s thoughts and feelings may be frightening and difficult for you to acknowledge. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words being shared with you. Do use the baby’s name when you talk about the death, however. For survivors, hearing the name can be comforting, and it helps confirm that the baby was not just a baby, but an important person in their lives.

Your friend or family member may tell the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize that repetition is part of the healing process. Simply listen and understand. And, remember, you don’t have to have the answer.

Avoid Simplistic Explanations and Clichés

Clichés, though they are often intended to diminish the pain of loss, can be extremely painful for survivors of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Comments like, “You can have another baby,” “They died young and avoided life’s hurts” and “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Instead of simplistic explanations, familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of emotions your friend or family member may experience. Allow the person to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death of the infant.

Remember That Siblings Mourn, Too

Often ignored is the grief of siblings. Why? Because adults have an instinct to protect children from painful realities. Yet any child old enough to love is old enough to mourn.

When a child’s brother or sister dies, another young person has died. So, for a child, confronting this reality can mean confronting the possibility of one’s own death. Be prepared to honestly but reassuringly answer questions such as, “Will I die, too?”

Also, don’t expect young people to acknowledge the reality of death in the same way adults do. Many children naturally embrace the reality slowly and may at times seem indifferent. Typically, the full sense of loss does not come about until several months after the death.

Offer Practical Help

Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or answering the telephone are just a few practical ways to show you care. And, just as your presence is needed, this support is helpful at the time of the death and in the weeks and months ahead.

Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say.

Don’t just attend the funeral, then disappear. Be sure to remain available afterwards as well. Remember, your grieving friend or family member may need you more in the days or weeks after the funeral than at the time of the death. A brief visit or a telephone call in the days that follow are usually appreciated.

Be Aware of Support Groups

Support groups are one of the best ways to help families who have experienced SIDS. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share their experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. Sharing the pain won’t make it disappear, but it can ease any concerns that what one is experiencing is crazy, or somehow bad. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Understanding the Importance of the Loss

Remember that the death of a child to SIDS is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. Be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

“While the above guidelines in this article will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping others after a SIDS death will not be an easy task. You may have to give more of your concern, time and love than you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. As a “helping friend,” you need to join with other caring persons to provide support and acceptance for people who need to grieve in healthy ways.”