Today I’m thinking about all the people who have lost a loved one from the pandemic or at some other time. My condolences to you. Loss is hard at any time, but with the restrictions of lockdown and the COVID pandemic, things are more difficult.
But maybe you are a relative, a friend, a work colleague or a neighbour who just wants to help someone who is bereaved and like me, you want to help people who are grieving.
As a bereavement counsellor, I have met many different people with different losses. Every person is unique and every situation related to the loss is different. I even support people who have lost a pet. Consequently, I know that there are common threads that many people suffer so today I would like to share some things that you can do to help others if you are not a bereavement counsellor.
Here are my 5 tips.
1. Find out about bereavement yourself
To understand bereavement and grief and help people I believe it’s necessary to understand what bereavement and grief are. Therefore if you see or are told something about your friend or colleague you will know if it is normal or not.
So what is bereavement?
The process of loss is called bereavement. It has no time limits and it is different for different people.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is:
But for you and the person that you are thinking about, it can feel like a long process of pain. Maybe they can’t see any ending to the emptiness that they feel. As a result, this thing called bereavement could be hard for them to understand.
What is grief?
The emotions that people feel are called grief but there are also physical and behavioural aspects to grief. This is what most people see and feel when they know someone is grieving.
You might see your friend or colleague crying, not eating or sleeping well or becoming angry at things easily. There is a long list of ways of expressing grief yet people don’t need to have them all.
They might experience some of the following:
- A hollow feeling
- Tightness in the throat
- Vivid dreams
- Blaming others a lot
- Low mood/depression
- Loss of appetite
- No motivation
- Aches and pains
- Feeling frustrated, angry, hurt and upset
- Happy or relieved
- Stomach problems
- Loneliness and isolation
- Shock and disbelief
- Fear for the future
As you can see the list is huge.
Sometimes people may confide in you and say that they are hearing loved ones or seeing them. This sounds scary but many people who are recently bereaved have the odd hallucination. They are not going mad. This is normal but if it persists they should seek some professional help.
Work colleagues might forget things, or get muddled. They might be quieter than usual but then bounce back to how they were before their loss the next day. Grief makes some people feel confused but it doesn’t last. It’s normal for recently bereaved people to bounce back and forth between being okay and then expressing grief.
What is mourning?
Morning is about the rituals that different cultures use to express grief or go through the process of grief.
For example, some people dress in black when they are grieving.
If you see that your friend or colleague only wears black now, that’s okay if they want to. This might be their way of expressing their grief and could be related to religious or cultural backgrounds. Remember that we don’t all have the same beliefs and rituals about death. Neither do we all have the same religious or spiritual beliefs.
In addition, they may tell you that they are visiting the graveyard every week. This is another common ritual that often brings a sense of peace to the person.
2. Offer to listen
People who are grieving need someone to be there for them but they often don’t want to feel overwhelmed. So listen when they want to talk and leave them when they want to be on their own.
Active listening is quite a difficult skill because you may want to dive in and fix their problem. My advice is to listen more than speaking when a bereaved person wants to talk.
The problem is though that many people have a fear of saying the wrong thing to someone who is grieving. If this is you, don’t let that fear stop you from offering help.
Giving someone a phone call is also good just to check how they are.
3. Ask them if there is any practical assistance you can give
Everyone has different needs when they are bereaved so you need to ask them how they are feeling and if there is anything that you can help with.
Often my clients say that they get lots of support from friends and family when they are first bereaved but the support quickly declines after a few weeks or months.
You could help with day to day things like getting some shopping or buying a newspaper.
Some people need help with sorting through their loved one’s possessions. Other people need more practical help like taking them to the solicitor or looking after their pets.
Sometimes people will say that they are okay and don’t need help but you can always offer help again later.
If it’s a work colleague who has been bereaved they might need help with their work. The company should have a policy on helping someone return to work after a bereavement. This might mean a phased return to work or a manager has been allocated to support them. Some HR departments help bereaved employees. Offer help and don’t avoid speaking to them for fear of saying the wrong thing.
As stated above it can be very lonely after you have been bereaved. Many people feel isolated especially if they did everything with their partner. Furthermore, socialising can feel awkward if the usual activities involved couples.
Mindful home activities might be a place to start. See if the person likes jigsaw puzzles, adult colouring books or crosswords. Listening to music, or watching a comedy on the TV are also calming. All these activities help the person to focus on the task and are relaxing.
Socialising can be going for a walk with the person or going for a drive in the car.
Lots of bereaved people join clubs and other activities as they begin to readjust to their loss. However, everything needs to be done at the pace that is right for the person.
4. Direct them to professional help
There are often so many things to do and think about when someone dies. There are funeral arrangements, the legal stuff, probate, money and tax issues, and family issues. As a friend or colleague, your intention should never be to interfere with personal issues unless specifically asked but you can find out where to get professional help from.
There is a Tell us Once service to inform all Government offices.
If they need to talk to a counsellor you can find counsellors through the counsellor’s directories eg. the Counselling Directory, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society.
The Citizens Advice office can provide other help.
5. Watch for any deterioration
There is no timetable for bereavement but after a few months, the bereaved person should be showing fewer signs of grief. So after say 6 months, they will rarely cry. They may have started a new routine and are finding that they are eating and sleeping better. Maybe they are now going out more and socialising.
However, if you notice that the person is becoming more depressed, not caring for themselves or feels that they are struggling to move on they should be advised to consult with their doctor.
Any suicidal thoughts and plans should be taken seriously. You should get them to speak to their doctor or hospital if you are worried about suicide. Alternately anyone can call Samaritans on 116 123 anytime to get help.
Finally, the easiest way to help someone who is grieving is to think about some of the things you might want in that situation. Respect, understanding, someone to be there if needed, empathy and care are the things we most want.
I specialise in bereavement counselling face to face in Bournemouth or online via Zoom. Contact me for a free initial consultation.