Be Ready To Help Grieving People

Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “You can see a lot by watching.” We can also learn a lot by listening. This proved to be true when I hosted a discussion dealing with ways to help grieving people. In the last two years, my mother and mother-in-law died. During this same period, several friends passed away. Add to this the fact that as a nation we have experienced much loss since September 11, 2001. Beginning with the attack on America, on through the Iraqi War and such disasters as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, we have been inundated with grief. To me, it appears that all of us should be prepared to comfort a grieving person rather than feel helpless or blunder into something harmful.
Even though I have had training in grief counseling and have experienced both sides of the situation, I wanted to receive input from others who have gone through bereavement in the last few years. I wanted to discover what is important to them in reality and not just in theory. I have incorporated what I learned from others with my own training and experiences. Here are some guidelines you may find valuable:
· Being there is more important than what you say. The mere fact you are present can make a profound difference. Listening, sharing, making eye contact and touching all show you acknowledge the pain. Allow the person to talk about his or her grief and express feelings. Don’t try to give sage advice and don’t interrupt the person with your own story about a relative or friend who died. The attention span of a grieving person is usually very short, so keep focused on him or her and the deceased. Share your condolences and don’t linger too long.
· Keep in mind that grieving people often want to share memories. Be ready to listen and to add positive, inspirational or humorous memories of the deceased. Again, remember that it is not about you and your loss of a loved one. It is about this person’s present experience. Mentioning the name of the deceased and the name of the grieving person is comforting.
· Making sure people have food is an old tradition, with reason. Grieving people tend not to eat, and certainly don’t want to consider preparing anything. Supplying high-nutrient, quick-to-eat finger food that is easy to clean up after is usually the best.
· Rather than saying, “Let me know if I can do something,” you might volunteer suggestions. It may be answering the phone, taking care of mail or bills, or some other menial task the person is not even thinking about at the present time.
· Grieving people tend to make decisions too quickly, and the decisions are often bad ones. If necessary, help the person with decisions that must be made, and recommend postponing major ones if these major decisions were not handled beforehand.
· Allow the griever to cry if he or she is so inclined. Pain and the expression of pain are part of the healing process. People often say, “Now don’t cry,” because they don’t want to see the hurting person in pain. Of course, different people react to grief in different ways. Be patient with a person’s changeable moods. It’s normal for someone to alternate between numbness, anger, sadness and acceptance. As I emphasize in my “Deal With The Winds of Change” presentation, during most changes we often experience denial, resistance, exploration and then commitment to the change.
· Keep in touch with the person. Many times, the most painful experiences come days, weeks or, for some people, even months later. The person may have made it through denial and resistance, which could involve anger, bitterness, blame, depression and anxiety. But now the person can’t move on to exploring the future and committing to the change. Or, maybe the person is still stuck in the resistance stage. Be aware, be patient, and, if necessary, be prepared to recommend professional help.

Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and

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