Helping those who are grieving


Many years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who, tragically, died soon after we had met. While many of the details of this time have faded into memory what I do remember is the palpable discomfort of dear friends and family who did their best to try and offer words and actions to help my husband and myself through this terribly difficult time. Fast forward and this past week we were privileged to be with my 90 year old mother in law when she died peacefully in her home. As my husband shared heartfelt condolence emails, calls and visits, I began to think about the role of the comforter and some good practices to consider when wanting to be supportive of someone grieving the loss of a loved one.

Because everyone responds to grief differently, there is no one answer as to how to comfort all who have suffered a loss. However, when reviewing some of the literature on grief, many experts suggest that sometimes saying nothing may be the most effective form of comfort. As Rabbi Reuven Bulka notes in his book “Turning Grief Into Gratitude,” “It is not the obligation of the consoler to offer words of comfort. The consoler’s obligation is to comfort, plain and simple. Comfort is achieved simply by being there with the mourner, even in silence.” It’s also OK to admit that sometimes they do not know what to say to help bring comfort. As well, though there may be an inclination to not appear intrusive, to ask the person if he or would want to share a story about their loved or a memory of time spent together. Psychologist Robert Neimeyer writes so poignantly, “We need to have big ears and a small mouth when with someone who is grieving.”

Although well-meaning and heartfelt, there are words of consolation that may not have the comforting impact as planned. It is suggested that visitors try to avoid cliches such telling a parent whose child had died that at least she was still young enough to have another child, that a elderly parent had lived a long life or that “it was for the best.” Therapist Jenna Baddeley writes “as well intentioned as these platitudes may be, they can be hurtful because they minimize and ignore the grievers current pain and effectively shut the griever down from further expressions of what they are feeling.” For this same reason, unless invited, best to avoid talking about shared similar losses. Also, rather then asking what can be done to help, gently offer ways that may be of benefit. For example, inquire about bringing some food, running an errand, tidying up the home or often most appreciated, just being present.

As grief expert Holly Prigerson writes: “Although extremely painful, grief is a normal process of accommodating to the new life that has to be lived in the absence of a loved one.” Though a loss is never forgotten, and some days will be harder than others, we seem to have the strength to adapt. Continued support from friends and family, and the passage of time can help ease the transition back into this new world.

For those who seem to be immobilized with grief, such as experiencing feelings of utter despair, deep sadness or a sense of being emotionally “stuck” please consider or have a friend or family member reach out to a health care professional.

Marci Vandersluis is a licensed social worker and has a master’s degree in gerontology. She is employed as a care manager assisting older adults in the community connect with needed services. Email: marcirobinvandersluis@gmail.com.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts
Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts

Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on Saturday, and after 65 years on the throne, she holds the distinction of ruling longer than any monarch in the United Kingdom’s history.  The queen actually celebrates two birthdays each year: her actual birthday, which is April 21; and one in June when she hosts a parade -- weather permitting -- called &ldquo...
Stormy Daniels' attorney talks about 'locked and loaded' DVD, Sean Hannity
Stormy Daniels' attorney talks about 'locked and loaded' DVD, Sean Hannity

The attorney for Stormy Daniels reiterated that a DVD of evidence of the adult film actress’ affair with President Donald Trump is “locked and loaded,” Newsweek reported.  Michael Avenatti appeared on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and in the online-only Overtime segment, the attorney was grilled...
OVI checkpoint leads to multiple arrests and citations, including for marijuana and guns
OVI checkpoint leads to multiple arrests and citations, including for marijuana and guns

Several people were arrested Friday night during an OVI checkpoint in Fairfield. Pete Reising, Butler County OVI Task Force coordinator, said of the 304 vehicles checked between 11 p.m. and 1:40 a.m. at the checkpoint on Ohio 4 just north of Symmes Road, 11 vehicles were diverted for further investigation by Fairfield police, Butler County Sheriff&rsquo...
Find out where Centerville will spend more than $4M to fix streets
Find out where Centerville will spend more than $4M to fix streets

Centerville will move ahead with plans to improve its infrastructure, using funding from its annual street program budget to repair more than 20 of the possible 256 total lane miles in the community. After an income tax levy passed in 2016, the city council added money to the annual street program budget, Maureen Russell Hodgson of the community resources...
Woman impaled during crash: 'I don't know how I'm alive'
Woman impaled during crash: 'I don't know how I'm alive'

A Massachusetts woman said she was happy to be alive after being impaled by a pole in an automobile accident. Katherine Ibanez, 31, was driving in Attleboro on April 3 when she said she swerved to avoid another car. "My car just spun all the way around. And then when I looked down, I had a pole stuck right here,” Ibanez said, pointing to...
More Stories