Eventually you will come to realize that love heals everything, and love is all there is. – Gary Zukav
In September 2009, my family lost our dear grandfather. It was a painful time for most of us because what happened to him was very difficult to accept. Prior to his hospitalization, he was an outgoing octogenarian who was fit enough to take long daily walks around town.
He wasn’t very sickly either although he had health concerns that were expected of someone in his age.
On his way home one day, he was mugged by a group of men who hit him on the back of his head before they took his money. Because of this head injury, he slowly grew weaker until he was no longer able to take care of himself.
He was rushed several times to the hospital for a host of reasons thereafter. He developed pneumonia while recovering from a treatment a few months later which caused his health to deteriorate further.
Mom and some of her siblings tried to comfort and encourage him throughout the ordeal, but, alas, he couldn’t recover and finally passed in a nursing facility.
There was a lot of sadness and anger among the rest of the family as the news about my grandfather’s death spread. We expected him to completely recover because we were informed that he was strong enough to recuperate.
It was definitely tough for my mom. Mom cried the first few days only, although she was visibly sad for at least a few months. For my part, I tried to comfort her the best way I knew, which was by staying with her at all times, listening to her express her grief and saying as few words as possible.
I did interrupt her stories with “words of wisdom” from time to time but they only sounded awkward because it seemed like she already knew what I was saying.
My mom is a strong person so I’m very thankful that it only took her about four months to accept and move on from my grandfather’s death. She did, however, take the initiative to honor my grandfather’s life by creating various memorial activities that we observe even to this day.
My grandfather’s passing was the closest one to have occurred in the family. All the deaths we’ve had before were from distant relatives or immediate relatives whom I am not close with. I therefore had a more intimate exposure to grief and mourning this time.
I took it upon myself to try to comfort everyone since I personally wasn’t as affected by the death (I was only in third grade when I last spent time with my grandfather). From that experience, I learned that grief was more complex than I had previously imagined. For instance, I initially thought that those who are grieving need to be uplifted with words like “you need to be strong” and “hang in there.”
I realized, however, that words like those put some kind of pressure on them to try their best to be strong when inside they were crushed into pieces. I now think that the best way to help is to allow them to deal with things their way and at their own pace.
When helping someone recover from loss, I’ve come to realize the following ways are the most supportive:
1. Don’t force things; respect others’ way of grieving.
In my family, everyone has their own way of coping with grief. My mom and her two sisters talked seriously at one moment and laughed out loud the next. Their way of helping each other was to reminisce their memories of my grandfather which included funny moments.
They honestly looked crazy to me with their eyes looking puffy because of much crying and their faces all red with laughter.
One of my uncles bottled all his sadness until he could no longer contain it and broke down while strolling about in a mall with his wife. My grandmother accepted things very quickly perhaps because she saw firsthand how my grandfather deteriorated and was somehow relieved that he was no longer suffering.
I realized that I didn’t need to think of so many ways to help most of my relatives cope with grief because they already knew what to do. All they needed was my support.
If you’re dealing with a grieving friend or relative, the best way you can help is to assure them of your inextinguishable support. If their way of grieving looks odd to you, you don’t have to correct them—just show them your love by standing with them at that time of sadness.
2. Give words of advice only when needed.
As I stated previously, words of “wisdom” and encouragement don’t always work because they are not often what our friends and family need to hear when they are grieving. Unless asked or called for, such words should be avoided lest they be misinterpreted and put unnecessary stress on the recipients.
3. When they’re ready, take them out to their favorite places.
Sometimes we need to remind a person who has been grieving so much what the “real world” is like. This could mean taking them to their favorite restaurant or buying them presents that are related to their hobbies.
Grieving may have taken so much focus and energy from them that they may have forgotten about many things in their day-to-day lives, in effect causing them to lose their own lives. By reminding them their source of passion, we might rekindle their enthusiasm for life and subsequently help them recover from their grief faster.
The key is to do this when they look ready. Often, the first few weeks might not be a good idea because their wounds are still fresh.
4. When arguments arise, try not to take sides.
Arguments arose in my family because some were saying that my grandfather could have still been alive had one of my aunts who vowed to take care of him been faithful to keep her promise. It was a very complicated story with some valid points coming from the two sides, but the problem was, it caused a bitter rift between family members.
Trying not to take sides, my grandmother and one of my older cousins stepped in, explaining that there was no point in arguing because my grandfather had already passed. They also correctly explained that my grandfather himself would not have wanted such a division in the family.
By not taking sides, we become catalysts for a quick settlement and resolution of any argument. At a time when everyone is emotionally sensitive, having such a neutral position will also prevent all parties from inflicting deeper wounds on each other.
How do you help someone dealing with grief? How do you personally deal with grief? Please let me know by sharing in Comments below. I’ll be more than happy to hear from you.