Death has to be the most difficult thing we go through. Many of our problems in life eventually go away or get better. Many of them we solve on our own by getting a new job, a new husband or new home. Death is final. Even believers who know they will see their loved ones in Heaven do not always find comfort in that. Because we are all unique as individuals, no one else can take the place of a lost loved one. When you have been close to someone who dies, the thought of never seeing him or her alive again is almost more than you can bear.
Sometimes we understand and accept death. As people get older, we expect them to die. When they are very ill and suffering, we are relieved when death ends their pain. Certain diseases we know lead to death. We accept that but we still struggle to understand why our loved one had to get sick. Parents expect to outlive their children. When they don't, it can be devastating. Most people expect to live a long life but it doesn't always happen that way. Dealing with the death of a loved one is something that no one should have to do alone. This is the time when, as a friend, you can surround a grieving person with love. But we don't always know how to do that. Here are a few tips to help support someone who is grieving:
- Recognize that just as everyone is different, all deaths are different. Some people handle death better than others. Some people seem to know exactly what to do while others fall completely apart. Sometimes the strong person is the one who crumbles but the weak one becomes strong. When thinking about what you can do to support someone who is grieving, don't make any assumptions.
- Acknowledge the death. Sometimes people don't know what to say to someone who has just lost a loved one. The initial contact and the funeral home visitation is not the time for long conversations. Keep it brief. "I'm sorry." "I'll be thinking about you." "The deceased was a wonderful person." "You'll be in my prayers."
- Think about what you say before saying it. I've been at funerals and heard people say things like: "You're young, I'm sure you'll find another husband." "You can have another baby." "It was God's will." It may or may not be true but it's not appropriate to verbalize things like that. You do not replace a deceased spouse or child by getting another one. No one can ever replace the deceased person. Don't ask personal questions like details of the accident, what they are going to do with certain things or who is going to get what. If the person died doing something they should not have been doing, now is not the time to be judgmental.
- When viewing the body, try not to act alarmed. Children especially need to be prepared before going to a visitation. The person probably will not look the way he did the last time you saw him. Sometimes there are wounds. Usually there is swelling and discoloration. Men and women both have makeup applied. The funeral home tries to make a deceased person look good but he never looks normal. Sometimes I hear people say, "He looks good." I'm always amazed at that. Personally I don't think anyone looks good dead. But there seems to be a lot of emphasis put on this. The family views the body before the public does. They decide if the appearance is acceptable. Not you.
- Give the family their privacy. Sometimes, well-meaning people respond too quickly. Initially the family has a lot of plans to finalize in addition to dealing with their grief. Call before going to the house. Go to the funeral home at the announced visitation time. A lot of churches prepare meals for the family during a death. Gestures like this are usually appreciated. If you're not sure what to do, it is best to call someone and ask.
- Respect the wishes of the family. This is a very difficult time for them. Sometimes they argue over funeral details. It is hard enough for them to have the conversations death forces them to have, make the decisions they have to make, and then be available to visitors. Whatever you are thinking, they have probably already thought about. They don't want to discuss certain things with visitors. If the family brings something up, that is different. Then you should acknowledge it.
- Don't forget them after the funeral. This is the hardest time. Understand they will go through many stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Loneliness. Guilt. Acceptance. Let them set the pace and the timetable. Their life has changed forever. The first year is the hardest. Each holiday is brutal. Keep in touch with them during this time. They may need gentle encouragement. When someone close to you dies, it's like a part of you--part of your identity--also dies. Don't try to talk someone of his feelings - he has to work through this before he can start to feel whole again. Help him honor the memory of the one he lost. It is true that a part of the person we lost lives within our minds and hearts. Talking about someone who has died is one way to keep his memory alive.
Sometimes you do all you can do when someone dies but you just don't feel like it's enough. That's because the pain is so great that it doesn't go away quickly. Even with everything you do, you cannot take someone's grief as your own. He has to go through the experience. All you can really do is be there. Be a good friend. He will feel your love and support which will help him through this very difficult time.