When we think of the bereaved, we most often include the primary relationships, such as: husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter. Other family relationships that may come to mind include grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle or cousin as well as godchild, godmother or godfather.
It is these closely linked family members that we rally around in the days and weeks following a death. We support them at the funeral or memorial service and receptions and Shivas held afterward. We write them sympathy notes, send them flowers, and donate caringly to remember their loved ones. We continue to be attentive to the bereaved through phone calls, emails and visits.
But what about the rest of us? There are many of us who will keenly feel the total absence of a friend, colleague, business partner, congregant, neighbor, committee chair or volunteer. The relationships we each cultivate means the range of grief and loss is ever expanding when someone dies.
Individuals who have lost someone they care about, regardless of their relationship to the deceased, are going to grieve over their death. Grief is a normal and healthy response to loss. Mourning is our reaction to grief and it is the painful process we go through to work through our grief and adapt to our loss.
So how do we express sympathy and to whom? When a dear friend died, I focused on supporting and caring for her husband and daughters. I participated and helped with funeral and mourning rituals. I followed up and still follow up with extending support to the bereaved family members. And yet I, too, am the bereaved.
What can we do to help the bereaved that fall outside of the inner family circle? We can acknowledge the loss. It can be in the way of a phone call, email or personal note. We can extend kindness and support, recognizing that they may not be up to handling daily responsibilities. We can bring a dinner or invite them out for a meal. And we can listen.
Most important, be aware of the far-reaching effect of loss. Pay attention to those outside the immediate family circle who may be grieving and require your kindness and support, too.
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 at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "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.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, NYCMarines