I remember when I was in fourth grade, the father of a boy at my school died. It was the first time most of us at that young age had ever really had to think about death. I remember my teacher instructed my class on how to act toward the boy: "Unless you're really, really good friends with him, you shouldn't say anything to him about it, because it will just make him feel worse." Looking back, I think that was terrible advice to give a bunch of nine-year-olds.
I think so many people don't know what to say, so we just decide to avoid the subject altogether. It's not as though the boy would have somehow forgotten about his father's death once he came back to school; I don't think anything we could have said out of sympathy would have truly made his situation worse. I can only hope that he didn't feel too isolated with so many of his peers avoiding him.
The next year, the grandfather of a girl in my class died. Our teacher set aside a part of the day to talk about death with us, and we all made cards for the girl out of construction paper. The teacher also recommended that we all try to do one small, nice thing for her in the next month or so. When she came back to school a few days later, all of the cards were on her desk, and she was absolutely thrilled. I think this was a much better way to deal with it. The girl got to feel the support of her class, and we all felt like it was ok to talk about death; we didn't have to pretend it never happened. I think even the simplest "I'm sorry," is better than not acknowledging the death at all.
"I think even the simplest "I'm sorry," is better than not acknowledging the death at all."
I agree, Karen. It is often difficult and feels awkward. Expressing something lets the person who is grieving feel less isolated. It sounds like your fifth grade teacher was very helpful, well adjusted and confident in helping you and your classmates.
You are right Bill.....I feel the same way ...If you say something and express with feeling to the Bewildered....It will most likely make them feel at ease and lift something off their shoulders....With just the right words can make things better.......
A few years ago I went into my boss' office to ask a question about a project I was doing. I started to ask my question and quickly noticed that his face was ashen and he wasn't looking at me. I asked if there was something wrong, and he said "I just found out my best friend died." I said "Oh, I'm so sorry" and as I started to leave to give him quiet space he asked why I had come by. When I told him it was just a trivial matter compared to his loss of a friend, he said "well, there are lots of trivial things that I'll need to do today, so ask your question." I did, I got my answer, and I left him sitting in quiet contemplation.
I often focus less on what to say, and more on just being present with someone. A mentor of mine, when asked what you do when you go over to someone's house who has just lost a loved one said, "Make the coffee."
When I do say something, I am usually just asking them to tell me the story. It is fitting in many ways. It lets them fill me in to the point that they know I am somewhat caught up with them. It gives them an opportunity to verbalize the story that they are still coming to grips with. I find that even long after the initial loss, people really want to tell me the story. Maybe not specifically the story of how they lost their loved one, but some aspect of their life or relationship that they are thinking about. I think people have trouble finding folks who are interested in listening, particularly as time goes on.
"Make the coffee." That's so funny, Bill, because that's exactly the mode that my mother always goes into when we find out about someone's death. The immediate response is to start baking or preparing casseroles to freeze so that the family doesn't have to worry about making their meals. It's a very concrete way to tell them that you care.
Are there errands that need to be run? Is someone needed to watch the children? Do visiting friends and relatives need a place to stay? Recently bereaved persons are often so stunned that they do not even know what they need to do, let alone tell others how they may help. So if you discern a genuine need, do not wait to be asked; take the initiative.
“Do not forget hospitality
Especially should we remember to be hospitable to those who are grieving. Instead of a “come anytime” invitation, set a date and time. If they refuse, do not give up too easily. Some gentle encouragement may be needed. Perhaps they declined your invitation because they are afraid of losing control of their emotions in front of others. Or they may feel guilty about enjoying a meal and fellowship at such a time.
IF THERE’S anything I can do, just let me know.” This is what many of us say to the newly bereaved friend or relative. Oh, we sincerely mean it. We would do anything to help. But does the bereaved one call us and say: “I’ve thought of something you can do to help me”? Not usually. Clearly, we may need to take some initiative if we are truly to assist and comfort one who is grieving.
Write a letter: Often overlooked is the value of a letter of condolence or a sympathy card.
One friend wrote me a nice letter. That really helped because I could read it over and over again.
It can say that you care and that you share a special memory about the deceased, or it can show how your life was touched by the person who died.
Well one thing we don't won't to do is not be too quick to say, It was for the best Trying to find something positive about the death is not always consoling to depressed souls who are grieving.
Such comments may imply to the survivors that they should not feel sad or that the loss was not significant. However, they may be feeling very sad because they dearly miss their loved one.
It may be better not to say, ‘I know how you feel’: Do you really? For example, can you possibly know what a parent feels when a child dies if you have not experienced such a loss yourself? And even if you have, realize that others may not feel precisely as you felt.
There is a Bible proverb that says “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it” (Proverbs 25:11) There is wisdom in knowing what to say and what not to say as well as do’s and do nots. Here are a few Scriptural suggestions that some bereaved persons have found helpful.
LISTEN: James 1:19 says “Be swift about hearing“. Sharing in the bereaved ‘s pain in one of the most helpful ways is thru listening. Some bereaved persons may find it helpful to talk about their loss of a loved one. Either about the accident or illness that caused the death, or perhaps about their feelings since the death. It is acceptable to ask “Would you care to talk about it?” Let them decide. It shows your interest in their feelings as well doesn’t encroach on their privacy.