Sunday, September 20, 2015

Calling On the Bereaved

It is always hard to believe when a friend or a loved one dies suddenly and tragically. You want to pay your respects by visiting, but you don’t really know what’s right or wrong to do once there. Here are a few suggestions of do’s and don’ts that might help.

What to say is probably the hardest thing to do. You don’t want to make it worse. So you don’t want to tell the parents things like, “She’s in a better place” or “God will take care of him.”

It is important not to be scared of silence. Give a hug. Just hold their hand. They may not want to talk. Let them start the conversation. Just let them know through your body language you are there for them. When the conversation starts, the simplest comment is, “I’m so sorry.” And let them take it from there.

Don’t laugh and make jokes at a bereavement call or try to cheer anyone up. That is not your job. And certainly don’t tell inappropriate stories about something funny someone said.

If others bring up some memories of the loved one, you can feel comfortable doing the same. But perhaps the best time to bring up fond memories is a few weeks or months later, when the death is not so new.

You may cry with the bereaved. It is not inappropriate to do so, particularly if you were friends or close to the one who passed. Holding their hand may comfort them as they cry. Bring tissues to pass to those who need them.

Don’t just call the bereaved on the phone. That is very impersonal and can be uncomfortable as you are not able to see their reaction to anything you are saying and vice-versa. Over the phone, you are forced to say something instead of being silent, increasing your risk of saying the wrong thing. If you can’t go in person, write a letter or email expressing your sympathy.

Respect the visiting hours. Don’t come before or after the times posted just because it is easier or more convenient for you. You may be intruding on time they want to spend with just family members.

Don’t be upset or surprised if you don’t get to talk to the mourners. Sometimes there are too many people there and not enough time to get around to everyone. The important thing is that you came and mourners appreciate that.

Offer any help to the mourner. Perhaps you can get them a plate of food or a drink, something they may not be able to do with many people around.

Don’t ask for details about the death. The bereaved may not want to talk about the one who died;  it may be too painful for them at this time.

Talk to others who have come to pay their respects to the mourners. You may know some, but also introduce yourself to those you don’t know. It is comforting to hear from someone who knew the deceased in a different context and had a different relationship with him/her.

We all know others who have died, and if we respected or loved who they were, we will want to be of comfort to the bereaved and their family.

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