Friday, December 28, 2007
How do I Help Someone Grieve?
One of the first things I came aware of as a Hospital Chaplain was that men and women grieve differently. Often we assume that every human being should respond the same way to grief. In the Christian community dealing with grief is especially difficult because of preconceived notions and dogma. We often teach people that grief is temporary and individuals should “get over it”. I have witnessed grief up close and personal since 1987 when I started volunteering as a hospital chaplain. Since 2005 I have been a professional chaplain at one of America’s busiest Trauma Centers and at a large state Psychiatric Hospital. I have sat with women that lost twins, Grandparents that lost grandchildren in fires, and victims of drive-by shootings families. Each situation was totally different. In most cases I can honestly say that men deal with grief very differently than woman.
Women tend to be more demonstrative and vocal while men usually sit quietly and internalize their pain. The other factor that makes grief differ is culture. I don’t want to sound stereotypical or racist in my assessments, but people are different. I in no way declare one group or culture is superior to another, but some culture are more demonstrative than other in the realm of grief, while some are more introspective. I am writing this to help a new chaplain or Pastoral Care volunteer better assess the situation he or she may be called to respond to.
I titled this book “Observing Grief” because in many cases the best things one can do is simply observe and be present when someone is grieving. People in grief do NOT need a sermon or a lecture. 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! Even if she is screaming and wailing…LET HER! Yes it may make YOU uncomfortable, but YOU are there to COMFORT HER! I have sat with grieving people and said very little, sometimes I simply hold their hand or give them a hug and simple prayer. Our presence means so much because times of grief are lonely times. When a person has lost a love one it is like losing a part of themselves. A woman loses her husband to cancer, but if he was the sole breadwinner she is also looking at possibly losing more. A man on disability loses his wife; he not only lost a wife but a caretaker. No two cases are the same and no two people handle grief the same way. Some people will seem to bounce back from a death swiftly while some carry their grief to their grave. The truth be told grief is never easy as we think it is. Even Jesus grieved over the death of His cousin John the Baptist.
Friends, relatives, and neighbors are usually supportive at the time of a death and during the wake and funeral that follows. Food, flowers, and physical presence are among the thoughtful expressions. But after the funeral, many grieving people wonder where their friends are. In some ways they need support and caring from their friends even more when the reality hits and the long process of grief begins. Ways of helping grieving people are as limitless as your imagination. Some suggestions are:
• Try to understand the grief process rather than be annoyed by it.
• "I'm sorry" or "I care" is all that is necessary to say; a squeeze of the hand, a hug, a kiss can say the words.
• Don't say: "You will get over it in time." They will never stop missing the person who died. Time may soften the hurt, but it will not just go away. There will always be a scar.
• Listen, listen, listen. Talking about the pain slowly lessens its sting. Most bereaved persons need to talk. It is helpful for someone to listen. Try to become an effective listener.
• Don't tell people: "It's God's will." Explanations do not console.
• Encourage expressions of specific feelings: anger, guilt, frustration, confusion, depression, hate.
• Be patient. Mourning takes time. People need you. Stand by them for as long as possible. There is no timetable for grief. Do not give a pep talk or suggest a timetable.
• Talk about the good memories. They help the healing process.
• Suggest that grieving people take part in support groups. Sharing similar experiences helps healing.
• Be there caring, saying "I'm sorry" and helping in practical ways.
• Sincerely ask, "How are you doing?" Bereaved persons can tell if you want to hear "fine" or if you really want to know.
• Help bereaved to eliminate expectations as to how they should feel and when they will be healed.
• Be approachable, aware, and interested.
• Be accepting of the person, of his/her feelings, his/her confusion.
• Acts of thoughtfulness-a note, visit, plant, helpful book, plate of cookies, phone call, invitation to lunch or to go shopping, coffee.
• Be confidential with what is shared with you.