COMFORTING FROM A DISTANCE...How do we support those who are grieving when it may not be possible to actually be with them physically? It is interesting that may of the ways we support people after loss are still ways that we can support them under the restrictions of the COVID virus.
There have been countless examples in the grief groups I facilitate of things people do or say that are helpful. Often it comes down to this— it’s not so much what one says, but what they do. How people put their support into action.
It is often a common refrain when speaking to someone who has lost a loved one to say, “Call me if you need anything”. While some people really may mean it, it puts the responsibility on the person who is grieving to ask. Over and again I have people say that they really don’t want to impose or they are not sure if the person is just being polite. And so, they aren’t likely to let you know.
When I hear descriptions of the most helpful support, it is the person that just shows up to mow the lawn or the one who does something helpful a month after the death and not just in the flurry of care one receives in the first few days. Grievers talk about the importance of the card or phone call that comes after others have gone back to their lives. The person who brings a meal every Wednesday or does some other chore like shopping on a regular basis for a while.
And one can always call. But, what should you say?
Really, it’s not that hard. People in grief usually just want to talk and have someone to listen. Someone who is not going to be uncomfortable with tears. Someone who is just patient and empathic. When folks talk about things that are not helpful, it’s usually the platitudes. “I know how you feel”, “Everything happens for a reason”, “You’ll get over it”. Try not giving advice unless you’re asked for it. Everyone navigates grief in a unique way. Don’t be afraid to say the deceased person’s name. Positive stories about how that person affected you or what you remember are almost always welcome. We feel sorry and it’s ok to say so.
So, perhaps we can’t drop over to sit with someone. However, we can make our presence felt in other ways. In this time of social isolation, doing the things we CAN do become even more important. So call. Write a thoughtful card. Send a gift card. Drop off your famous apple pie. Be creative. We can have a community of support for someone who is grieving, even during this isolating time.
Greg Syner, LPC