Grief is a very painful and personal experience. When I recently asked bereaved adults to share their thoughts on what helped and what hurt following the death of their loved ones, I got different viewpoints. It’s apparent that we each grieve in our own way and in our own time. And yet there were a number of things that most of the bereaved agreed on; certain questions upset them and there are other questions they wish you’d ask.
So what question did the bereaved find most distressing? Quite simply, “How are you doing?” One bereaved parent said it best; “How do you think I’m doing? I just lost my precious child! I’m devastated.” A hot button for bereaved spouses is a rather intrusive statement; “Don’t tell us it’s ‘Been enough time,’ or ‘It’s time to start letting it go.’” “No one can decide whether we’ve grieved enough or too much and it’s up to us to decide if we want to start dating again.”
One bereaved parent said, “Don’t comment or criticize on what we’re doing. We’re having a hard enough time already without your two cents.” A bereaved spouse offered, “Don’t ask questions if you’re not willing to listen to the answers.” For example, his father-in-law asked him if he was worried about money following the death of his wife. The bereaved dad of two adolescents said “Yes.” And without further inquiry or discussion, the father-in-law walked away leaving the bereaved spouse to wonder, “Why did he ask?”
What do they wish you’d ask? They’d love to hear you ask them to talk about the deceased. For example, “Tell me a story about Robert that I don’t know.” Or, “Let me share a story about Anna that I’ve never told you.” And while delivering home-cooked meals are thoughtful and welcome, one bereaved spouse said one of the nicest things was being invited to a home-cooked dinner. When lives are turned upside down after the death of a loved one, it’s wonderful to escape to a home where life has a settled rhythm.
And if you’re truly are at a loss on what to say or how to help, ask. “I want to help but have no idea how. Can you tell me how I can help you?” is an honest inquiry and should elicit some suggestions.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.