Ask The Chaplain

Ask The Chaplain

Monday, November 12, 2007

How do I Help Someone Grieve?


  1. Don't desert. After the initial contact with the patient, there is a tendency to leave the bereaved alone and forsaken. If this has been true for you, question yourself as to why you did that? Was it out of concern that you might further distress those who have suffered loss? In other words, were you afraid that you might trigger another round of tears which can look like you are bringing more pain on them then they already have?
  2. Be a pathway. Look at your presence as a pathway to healing. And healing often comes through pain. The rule of thumb is the quicker and more intensely a person grieves, the sooner they heal. This rule does not negate a person’s will or choice. It just reminds caregivers that being with a griever and giving them permission to feel and express their grief, is what we’re all about.
  3. Don't try to fix the pain. Bereavement is painful. There must be pain before there can be healing. The most difficult thing to learn about comforting is to permit the bereaved to live their own pain. It is one thing to sorrow with a person but quite another thing to interfere with their pain. We are not doing anyone a service by trying to take their pain from them.
  4. Listen with your heart. Grieving is a matter of the heart rather than the head. Listening to the feelings of the bereaved is most important, permitting the sorrow to surface and the pain to be openly expressed. Invite all feelings to surface and listen through the silences. Your being there is more important than knowing what to say.
  5. Accept all expressions of grief without censoring. Often there are aggressive feelings expressed, including anger, resentment, guilt and shame. Sometimes the bereaved feel cheated by God. Let them be angry. God understands grief. The only time to intervene is if the anger is expressed in a way that may physically hurt someone. The way to healing ones anger is through first acknowledging and processing it. Then is when a person is more likely to begin abandoning it.
  6. Permit the bereaved opportunity to talk. This is a vital part of the healing process. Enforced silence in this regard can be very detrimental and prevent recovery. Gently ask the bereaved if they would like to talk about their loved one.
  7. Be sincere. Do not make a pretense at being interested in the bereaved if you are not. Pretense really can hurt. Think how you want to be treated and always seek to be kind.

People who are grieving often feel isolated or lonely in their grief. Soon after the loss, social activities and support from others may decrease. As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of "making the person feel bad." They may "not know what to say."

People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings. Showing concern and thoughtfulness about a friend shows that you care. It's better to feel nervous and awkward sitting with a grieving friend than to not sit there at all.

“Be swift to HEAR and slow to speak”

Helping a Woman Grieve

Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Don't worry so much about what you'll say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Resist the urge to preach and educate the grieving person. Women will generally vent verbally more than men, allow her to vent! I had a woman that lost a 4 month old baby scream at me at the top of her lungs; “Why did God DO THIS?” I just let her scream and get it out of her system. Eventually she broke down and cried in my arms. I didn’t try and give her a dissertation on the sovereignty of God. Often clergy try and help people make sense of tragedy; unfortunately most tragedies make no sense. Job’s three friends made this mistake as well. Too often ministers try and teach people lessons in the hospital and at funerals. When a person is in pain whether physically or emotionally the last thing they need is a sermon. If you are a child of God suffering, Jesus sees your pain and will do something about it. Jesus understands pain because he felt it too!

2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

2 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9)

The disciples were just as dense as we are today! They ask the question, “Who sinned?” Well if he was born blind, what sin did he commit? Did he kick his mother in the womb? Truthfully all of us are born sinners! (Psalm 51). Why would God punish him for his parent’s sin? I’m glad Jesus answered their question. Jesus said “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents.” I am a firm believer that many today are not healed because those that minister forget that the glory belongs to the Lord of Host. If you watch the so-called great men and women of God today, they act like they are the healers and not Christ alone. God was very angry with Job’s friends! Why? Because they falsely accused Job and misrepresented God, They were also self-righteous as they bombarded Job with innuendo and accusation. The best thing you can do for someone that suffering is pray for them and keep you mouth shut. A hug goes a lot further in most cases than a lecture.

Give the grieving person permission to express his feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don't instruct or set expectations about how he should respond. Never say, "I know how you feel." You don't. Think of yourself as someone who walks alongside-not behind or in front of-the one who is mourning. If the woman in question allows it give her a hug, sometimes a hug means more than anything you could possibly say. The grieving person often feels abandoned and alone so compassion goes a long way. The Pastoral care giver must be cautious not to over do it with the touching. Sexual impropriety is a sad reality in ministry these days.

Your ongoing and reliable presence is the most important gift you can give your grieving friend. While you can't take the pain away, you can enter into it through being there for him. Remain available in the weeks, months, and years to come. Remember that your friend may need you more later on than at the time of the death. The loneliest time is months after the funeral, when all the friends and family has gone away. Take her out to lunch sometimes or have her over for coffee and Danish.

Men grieve differently from women. Our cultural roles make it difficult for men to look for support, and harder again to accept it. Men are so often silent, solitary mourners who immerse themselves in activity and private, symbolic rituals. They feel profoundly, but often can't express the depth of their loss.

A man is supposed to be "strong," to support, to cope, and to plan in the aftermath of loss. His own pain must be put away.

Grief doesn't discriminate between gender or culture. Our society has placed clear expectations and requirements upon our roles as men and women. Boys learn quickly what behavior is considered inappropriate through such statements as, “Stand up and take it like a man.” “You’re the man of the house,” and the insidiously cruel "Big boys don't cry.”

No comments: