When my wife's father passed, a few of her friends came over to the house, and without asking, just started to clean. She was catatonic in grief at the time, and this broke her out of it. She was beyond grateful, and holds those friends in the highest regard today.
So I - with my engineer brain - thought I had this grief thing figured out. Just be helpful, do the little things that nobody wants to do. Don't give meaningless platitudes. Don't bring food, there's enough of that. Etc.
Fast forward, a good friend lost his sister last year. A few days after the funeral I went over to his house and started mowing his lawn. He was pissed, maybe more angry than I'd ever seen him. He just wanted me to come by with a 6-pack and watch a game.
My wife loves a clean house, it is big part of her identity. Her friends knew/know that about her. My friend didn't actually care about his lawn, but he adores baseball, and loved watching Cubs games with his sister.
Grief isn't one-size-fits-all and helping people isn't paint-by-numbers.
It might seem counter, but if you can make therapy available or more accessible to them without forcing them into going - if you can foot the cost, give them a ride, even just get referrals - that's massive. Hospice services also sometimes include check-ins from a social worker that eventually lead to a more tailored referral to a therapist, if one would seem to help.
One of the only good memories from a particularly terrible job was them sending me a really nice flowering potted plant when my grandmother passed. It was extra thoughtful because it was low maintenance and hardy.
When my wife's mom passed, her grief was deep. And she didn't want her mother to be forgotten, so we planted this insane rose bush. It didn't look like much then, but it's hard to keep the thing under control now. And we think about it all the time, it suits her personality perfect.
Can't even imagine how it feels to lose your wife. I lost my sister a few years ago to cancer. In the 6 months before her death I visited 3 times a week because I could work on the train, and cycle from the station. I'd work at her house, cook lunch and chat. Then I'd cycle to the train and come back home. Simply being there, working, and having occasional chatter was huge for her. Her husband still had to work (unlike tech workers, most people have to "be there" for work, and few can simply drop with because a family member is dying, slowly, over months or years). After she died, i continued making my journey, but this time I was doing it for him. Spending evenings doing absolutely nothing, just listening to music, playing with their kid, talking crap, having a beer. I did that for almost a year, until things started to feel somewhat normal.
Hear them grieve. The release of strong emotion is important. It's a sharing of pain, and in that telling there is also bonding through shared experiences.
Spend time with them. Being alone can amplify strong emotions and can lead to dangerous behavior. Just being there helps. And like hearing them, having been there counts. It's a shared thing, a bond, that brings strength to all involved.
Help meet basic needs. Food, comforts, house work, and all the little things matter. Grieving people lack energy and a little boost can help them get through a day.
Getting through a day, especially the first day, matters a lot. Each day they get through sees the grief play out a little bit at a time. The early times are most important! Grief and it's impact on people is most potent at the onset.
And don't force things, unless it's absolutely necessary. An example might be not leaving a parent alone after they have learned a child committed suicide. I did that recently. No, not my loss, but a close friend of the family. Their grief is profound, and leaving them alone unwise. If you are faced with this, be a great human and do your best. There are no easy or right answers. Just caring and sharing.
I'm a bereaved father, who lost his only child 5 years ago.
If it's the loss if of their child, bring up the child by name. Yes, it will trigger some emotions in the bereaved, but it also lets them know that someone else remembers their child's life.
Other than that, perhaps help them seek out a formal self-help support group if they are so inclined. The Compassionate Friends -- such a group supporting relatives after a child dies -- is one good example for my case. My wife and I think that TCF really helped us. I'm sure there are similar groups for other bereavement situations.
Don't expect them to ever "be the same" again. They most likely can't be...
Something I heard was that there is no point trying to avoid mentioning the dead person out of year of reminding them - because they are thinking about them all the time anyway. So by mentioning them at least you are making that a shared experience which is much less lonely.
I've heard the advice that better than saying "let me know if there's anything I can do", is to additionally suggest things you could do for the person rather than leaving the burden on them.
I second the suggestion to bring food; ideally something that can be kept in the freezer if they're being inundated by food right now.
Or if you're a neighbor you could offer to walk their dog, or drive their kids to/from school with yours. Anything you can think of that makes sense for you to do that might take some of their burdens off their shoulders for a bit.
A lot of people told me to move on. That was probably technically correct, but seemed like the worst thing I could imagine - not feeling terrible about myself.
My uncle’s brother died long ago, so he told me something of the opposite - that I would think about this every day of my life. But it had to become a piece of me, and not the whole me. And that I’ll never be able to reconcile the rest of my life, but I could, right now, set a timer and do something for the next five minutes. Like physically move 10 yards to sit on the lawn. And then a new place for the next five minutes. Write something down. Start with single words when sentences are too ambitious. Read one page from a book and then rest.
The gains from each tiny step in one direction add up. The focus is intense, like an addict. At the end of a year, I wasn’t just running marathons, I was winning marathons. It could have gone better, but it definitely could have gone a lot worse.
Jews have a tradition of Shiva (7 days where the bereaved stays home, and people visit them). The advice given in Shiva is don't talk, just listen.
If they talk, then respond based on what they said. In particular if they are telling stories (sharing memories) about the deceased, then you should as well, if you have any. Don't talk too much (especially not about yourself), but sharing memories is good, if they are, or if they seem to want to hear more.
If they are silent, then you also stay silent, and just be there.
If they seem uncomfortable in the silence, but don't know how to talk, then share a memory of the deceased, but you should not talk too much. You are not there to entertain them, nor are you there to "take their mind off things".
Do NOT make them host you!!! They should not be cooking food for you, and bringing you a chair, or anything like that. You should do it for them. They should just be there, with people around them.
Also, don't overdo it. People want time with others, and they want time alone. With Shiva the mourners are recommended to set a schedule saying when they want visitors, so they can control how much time they want alone vs accompanied, and it also lowers the burden of hosting, since they don't have to always be ready for a visitor. (Some people do an hour a day, others 5 hours or more.)
>Jews have a tradition of Shiva (7 days where the bereaved stays home, and people visit them). The advice given in Shiva is don't talk, just listen.
When one is grieving, let them set the agenda. Don't push them to do anything. Everyone processes grief differently, and we all need to come to the reality of our loss in our own way and our own time.
If you start making "suggestions" or trying to "help" someone process their grief without being invited to do so, all you're doing is adding to the stress of the situation, not alleviating it.
And this doesn't just apply to the grief of loss either. Sometimes (often), in times of stress, folks want/need to express themselves and often ask questions and express doubts.
That doesn't mean they actually want answers. Rather, they're expressing their thoughts and feelings and just need to do so without comment, judgement or suggestions as to how to "fix" the problem.
So just listen and give the grieving person what the specifically ask for. The most important thing is to actually be there.
That's a lesson that took me a long time to learn. I'm someone who tries to be empathetic and wants to "help" by creating a solution. But often it's not a solution that's needed or wanted, just an ear, a shoulder and no judgement.
I've been going through grief, and silence is the most annoying thing I encountered lately. People are so afraid to talk about death and grief, they believe that if they say something about it, you'll turn into tears, but that's wrong most of the time. People just don't know how to deal with hard feelings to the extent they just do not say anything. And this is painful, since it vanishes last bits of a person from life.
There's nothing wrong with death, people's reaction what makes it sad. And it's in your hands to make it meaningful and help other people with it.
Do not ever be silent about death: talk, ask, listen, share a grief and never forget about it.
There's a lot that could be said about different cultural beliefs and rituals around grief that contribute to this. At least in my very white, Christian (or lapsed Christian) circles, it's treated as some private burden to bear with immediate family only, which isn't easy if you have little or no other family. But I've seen so many other cultures, even very close ones in demographics but in other countries, where rituals - wakes,
jazz funerals, potluck memorials - bridge these gaps and give people meaningful tools to help connect over loss.
It's possible to adopt or create rituals, if others who are grieving are willing to participate. But it often seems like ones already in someone's culture "stick" the best.
For me, being around friends and family and keeping myself busy helped the most. Keeping up with my hobbies, hanging out with friends, and focusing on work kept me sane. Not sure if it was the healthiest method, but I tend to get a little self destructive when my mind is left to itself.
Avoid the "what ifs". You cannot go back in time, and it is unfair to yourself to constantly question what you could have done different. Be kind to yourself.
Finally, one comment that deeply resonated with me during a time of grief is this reddit comment. It helped give me some perspective in a time that seemed void of hope.
In many (but not all) cases, if the grieving are willing to communicate at all, they want their cries of pain heard and listened to. They would rather that you cried with them instead of trying to tell them that there is light at the end of the tunnel or that there is a 'fix' for their 'problem' or that we must accept that life is hard and unfair and suck it up.
I think there are different cultures of this. Some want you to simply grieve with them, and some feel it's inattentive to ignore the problem.
People often act what's appropriate to their culture, which is a faux pas to the other culture. So you should probably be really careful and spot what the person needs. But listening and nodding is often the safer route.
I don't really like this framing that "logical-thinking programmers" can't take emotions into account. Emotions are a thing, they are part of our reality. Failing to take them into account is a logical error. If you expect people to act rationally and without emotion, you are wrong, on the very basic "logically wrong" level.
Alas, when presented with a problem many of us search for a solution. Afterall, that's what we do. But sometimes people don't come to us for a solution. And for me, and many like me, it's really difficult to not look for a solution to help them. There's nothing logical in that, and the search for solutions it's driven by your own emotions and desire to help. But it's what we are or what we have become, and it's not easy to overcome.
> What the parent is getting at is solving the problem type interactions.
That's part of my point though. There are problems to solve, like "this person isn't going to have any energy and still has to do all the usual living stuff", which is why bringing food, helping with housework, pets, that sort of thing is useful. But the grief itself isn't a problem looking to be solved. If you think that is a problem to solve, that's an error in your reasoning.
Then please explain me what they meant by "It's counterintuitive to logical-thinking programmers", followed by a link to a video called "It's Not About The Nail", that is about a person that has a nail in her forehead, and asking the person that seem to be her partner to stop trying to fix the nail on her forehead, but to listen to her, while she's complaining about things that could be cause by the nail on her forehead.
If that's not painting "logical-thinking programmers" as people that aren't able to take emotions into account when dealing with people, I don't know what point they tried to make.
I'm excited to see somebody express this. I've always felt strongly that the perception that emotions don't figure into logical reasoning is in fact illogical. People seem to conflate the contexts of emotions affecting reasoning, and reasoning accounting for emotions.
Do not offer solutions. Don't tell someone they need to get help( in America this is often unaffordable anyway).
If someone has financial needs after a passing, you don't need to help them, but don't offer half baked solutions.
There's very little help for poor people in America. Getting assistance can take years if it's possible at all. Many movies which depict poverty show a fantasy version where you can call up 1-800-get-home and get placed in a unit within the week. This is something I'm unfortunately very familiar with, never assume that you know more about someone's situation than they do.
Now if you want to help, make sure you know the person very well, remember they owe you nothing. They don't even owe you friendship. That said I provided one of my best friends with a token amount of money which was enough to allow him to move to another country and start a new life.
And as of the universe smiled at me, I got a 30k raise within months of providing said help.
18 years ago, I suddenly lost my best friend, business partner, lab partner, roommate -- my soulmate. My grief was an endless abyss and I engaged in self-destructive behavior in hopes to find something that would ease the emotional pain. Nothing worked and this went on for years.
If I could be transported today and visit my former self at that time, it's not clear my words or presence would make any difference since even in this hypothetical scenario there is no "I understand what you are going through" unless you are in the same abyss at the same time. What may have made the difference is if I could have visited myself a month prior to his accident and told myself to commit to the Jewish practice of the Shiva (7 days of mourning). It at least would have put in my mind a time-box goal. But telling myself after the fact would have been too late since I was barely conscience in a meaningful sense.
Also depending on the circumstance, prolonged depression, or thoughts of revenge as a path to end your emotional pain, may be unavoidable. In S.Junger's book "Tribe" he discusses evolutionary basis for depression. If someone dies that is demographically similar to you and in your Tribe, then your brain makes you depressed because historically humans died violent deaths. The benefit of depression is that it makes you inconspicuous (e.g., hunched to reduced physical size, quiet, sleepy) which put you out of harms way. This is more true if your tribe is small and revenge is not practical.
So to anyone reading this, please commit now to timebox your inevitable future mourning periods. 7 days is perhaps too ambitious since in our time we confront death less frequently than when that Jewish law was prescribed. But you should set some goal. You owe it to the deceased to minimize the time in your life where you aren't alive in a meaningful sense. saadalem I regret and recognize I didn't answer your question or provide optimism. Fortunately advice mentioned in the other comments are really good and after reading some of them, it would have definitely helped me during that time.
(throwaway and limited detail as this is based on recent events in my family)
If you're not the one grieving, as others have said, giving "helpful advice" isn't helpful and it won't get followed anyway. Grief isn't something you can fix. Listen. I have several good listeners around me, including my wife, and a counsellor through work, and I'm really glad of that. Most people seem to consider "go to a counsellor" unhelpful advice, and won't, but they really should! And switch if you don't like the first one you go to (I've been lucky and haven't had to switch).
If you're the one grieving, everyone experiences it differently. If there is "someone to blame" the anger can eat away at people - restorative justice stuff can help. In our situation what happened was a geniune accident. Some family have accepted that (it was always my view) and some are just really angry. And I don't know what to do there.
Different events multipled by different people means many different possible responses! I've been told that people do go through Elizabeth Kubler-Rosses stages of grief, but in a completely random order.
Wierd stuff brings it back, you cry over things that make no sense at all. For me, gradually those feelings have lost their sharpness. I'm sad but not to the point of tears.
If you're the one who is grieving, you can give "helpful advice" that provides a sense of perspective, to yourself. For example, my understanding that this was probably a genuine accident, even before the police confirmed that. You'll still cry, it'll still be hard, you're a person not a robot.
I do wonder how modern western life make us less prepared for this sort of thing. The world for us westerns (pre COVID anyway) is so safe that outside expected deaths of people in their old age, experience of grief is uncommon. In e.g. Britain this change happened in the mid 18th century. Now, most people haven't experienced a younger person they know dying, so have no clue what it's like. And that brings on the unhelpfulness.
To be sure, the 'stages of grief' as originally presented by Kuebler-Ross were not linear, and had no set endpoint. One can be angry, then accepting, and then angry again... And maybe never even touch bargaining. They're about documenting and normalizing the extremely varied human response to death.
Most curiously, the stages of grief were originally about /the experiences of people who were dying/, not the survivors.
When my father passed away, it was surprisingly comforting when people sent their condolences. It's pretty simple and doesn't even have to be heartfelt. Just seeing people there and not being alone helped. Especially when you lose someone who's been there for you all your life, perhaps the biggest fear is being alone.
Beyond emotional support, if they have lost a parent or are in charge of an estate for any reason, make sure they get a lawyer as quickly as possible. Common media makes everyone aware of dramatic family battles which may or may not actually happen, but it does not cover the soul-sucking bureaucracy you have to deal with. The government is happy to drag it on beyond all reason. Even if you are supposed to give them money, they will give you task after task in order to actually pay them, they won't tell you all the steps in the beginning to hasten the process, and simply filing the death certificate is not enough to trigger the start of the timeline.
Everyone thinks their family will never battle like that, or if they do think that they mis-evaluate who the risky party is or how bad it will get. Get a solicitor/lawyer ASAP and more importantly, be wary of ANYONE who tells you you don't need one or who leaves you feeling under time pressure about things like organising the funeral or deciding how to split the estate.
Indeed. While I happened to correct that I was not having a family battle, you may never know and a lawyer is necessary ASAP anyway.
The closest analogous life experience I can think of is trying to sell or purchase a home with a mortgage, except the process can take over a year from the first time you contact a lawyer, they won't tell you when it ends or how frequently you'll need to do things, and it's much crueler as it's obviously not something you wanted to do in the first place.
Gonna be honest here. Say things about people being nice that I'd never say to their faces.
When my dad died, people said all sorts of stupid shit to me. A billion variations on "I'm sorry for your loss." They'd tell me how much they loved him. What they'd miss about him. Bla fucking bla di bla. One person managed to say something completely different, I won't repeat it here, because it was unique and situationally specific -- but that was kinda refreshing.
Cut the crap, your blandishments do nothing for anybody. What I needed was somebody to fucking listen. Sit there and be silent long enough for me to open up. Or just sit there and be a quiet friend. Or get me out to take a walk. And not say much. Bring a lasagna or something so I don't need to figure out dinner. Come over and wash some dishes, or something. Some people might even have an answer to "what can I do to help." If you know a person well enough to know the difference between a hard no and a polite "I don't need the help," use that, a little firmness will probably be appreciated.
Be present, and listen. The worst thing about losing my partner was the loneliness; neither of our families are nearby, many of our friends had moved. My neighbors became a surrogate family by inviting me over almost daily to have dinner, hang out, play games, talk, cry, whatever. I just needed to not be alone, and they made sure that I always had a place to go where I didn't have to be alone.
I have lost someone few years back and still feel the loss. How to overcome/recover is up to the individual and there is no fixed time frame. But, its wise to acknowledge the loss and its a fact that people who passed away cannot be brought back. So, try to yoga/exercise and stay in a positive mood. I was under severe stress and exercising for around 2 hours a day helped a lot. Do not eat junk food to be in positive mood since that will only make you obese and unhealthy.
I’ve personally appreciated people willing to talk about the topic of death and the person who died. As opposed to those seeking to provide distraction. In particular I couldn’t stand anyone seeking to give a positive spin on it to “cheer me up”. It’s a bad thing. Just marking it and being with the person is enough.
It needs consent from the grieving, which sounds obvious but I've learned in practice isn't. It also depends very much on context; someone left living alone doesn't need a community's worth of food, but someone left caring for children, elders, or dependents has a much greater need for logistical help like that.
I'll echo what others have said here: give grief space.
Try to remember mourning is a process rather than an event; i.e., some days you'll be feeling really listless, whereas other days it won't hurt as much.
Either way, acknowledging the emotion and stay with it is a good way to make peace in your inner turbulence. The more you loved, the more you'll hurt, I guess.
Sorry you have to go through this, my friend.
Marihuana helped me through a terrible loss. It took the worst edge off, say the top 25-35% of the grief and sadness. It made it possible for me to exist without crying constantly. Used it as a therapy/self treatment device for 2-3 first weeks.
Well it took away the edge meaning the worst depths of despair and sadness, which made it possible for me to function. I could have ~4-5 hours of a less terrible state of mind.
The upside of marihuana instead of booze is no hangover and generally as immediately harmful for the health.
Nobody died actually, but it would be the final and last time I ever saw a girl I was with.
To love someone is to give them a part of ourselves. When they are not there, that part is missing; we are not whole. So when the scythe cuts through life and the essence drains out; then we know pain. Not of the body nor of the mind, but pain of the heart that fills our inner most depths. We do not feel it at first, but as our heart bleeds we drown in the misery and plea for death's sting.
Some who have experienced such emotional trauma tell of a desert afterwards: a retreat, a place of half life and a place of healing. We walk and view the reflections of our life and listen to the whispers on the wind. Do not rest too long: there are dangers. Avoid the middle of the desert. Here the light is different: like treacle, it is thick and it flows. Time does not pass -- the air is still and things do not move; just the shadows, first they are here then they are there. These places can swallow you up like quick sand: walk away!
Keep walking and walking and walking. When the path is tough, just little steps will do; one after the other. Do not be afraid to take a hand: it will not pull you down but guide you on and carry you through the roughest terrain: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. On and on we go. But slowly we heal, our wounds dry up and seal, our despair evaporates and is carried away on the winds. Life returns.
The misery that has seeped out from our hearts dries and slowly crystallises to form gems containing the rainbow of our memories. They line the chambers of the heart: our inner selves; a hall of celebration. Shine the light, and let these jewels colour your every day!
The start of the SF Bay Area shelter in place order was sandwiched right between the sudden loss of my boyfriend (completing suicide), and then two weeks later my best friend (cancer), all in March 2020. As the pandemic resulted in a loss of work at the same time.
It really was a incredibly lonely, isolating experience.
To top it off, many friends left the Bay Area. I fortunately was not grieveing alone as my boyfriend’s cat inherited me, his next human.
The things that people normally get help with, or support- couldn’t be done. I was pretty alone cleaning out my boyfriends’ apartment, didn’t get to have any kind of service for either of them; and I had nothing to occupy my time except “what if” thoughts - but few people willing to discuss with me.
What would be most helpful for the grieving?
- If you can be with that person, be with them.
- Do share stories, photos, memories of the deceased if you knew them.
- Let them manage the conversation.
- If they want to go through the “what if’s” with you, entertain them! This was the most healing interactions I had.
- especially don’t tell a suicide loss survivor anything regarding them being at fault or not. They don’t need to hear it; and indeed they have been thinking about these what if’s constantly when alone. “It’s not your fault” can be interpreted as a sign that your support has boundaries and you don’t wanna discuss. Better to LISTEN to everything they want to discuss. If it was a suicide, gently tell them “I hear you,” and suggest even if they, the bereaved, intervened in the situation that ended their loved one’s life; they may have changed the outcome that day; but every day to the deceased was challenging. It takes professional help to pull someone out of a suicidal mindset; and even then it’s not a guarantee they wouldn’t have been successful eventually.
- Finally, check in with them around the anniversaries of their passing. One month, six months, one year, 18 months. Trust me, they won’t forget the date, they really need extra support then.
- Boys do cry. Anyone who told me that “Boys don’t cry” bull**t, I immediately found untrustworthy to confide in and share my grief with. Even though I had only one person tell me that, it was completely not what I needed. Don’t judge anyone’s reactions to grief. Do let people feel.
- My boyfriend Spencer, age 32, was a loving person who had a wonderful soul. I still like to discuss him to keep his memory alive; I find those who are not afraid to bring him up also, to be my closest friends.
- You/everyone else around the grieving will probably get tired of hearing about the deceased over and over again. There is no timeline or end date to grief. I still feel their loss as heavy today as previously.