Dr. Shalonda K. Crawford, PsyD
At some point we all are faced with the difficulty of managing loss. Loss may occur in many fashions including the loss of material possessions (i.e. a house, car), divorce, a job/career, health, a cherished dream or aspiration, death and even the loss of relationship with a person or people who may be still alive (i.e. friend, relative, separation). In our attempts to manage and deal with the various stages of loss, many find themselves overwhelmed with sadness, grief and even bouts of depression. When we see or learn that our loved ones are hurting, naturally we want to help. In any event, managing the care and support of a grieved loved one can be a difficult and complex task. You may ask yourself, “How can I be of help?” or “What can I do to support my loved one during this difficult time?”
When someone that you care about is suffering a loss, the last thing you want to do is add to the problem. In your desire to be a part of the solution it may be challenging to find the right words to say or to know the right thing to do. As a support, you may fear being inadequate, intrusive or inconsiderate. While you may not be able to take away the pain in this moment, you can join them on the road to healing and be a part of the recovery process. Here are five tips that foster and cultivate healing in times of grief and bereavement of loss:
1. Be Available As Needed
Make yourself as available as possible in the way that is best suited for your loved one. Keep in mind that not everyone grieves in the same way. Be attentive to the barrage of emotions that a person may encounter from guilt to sadness, despair and even anger. As they may ride or rapidly cycle the emotional roller coaster, be careful not to impose or burden them with your own feelings, thoughts and explanations. Avoid statements like, “you should…” or “you shouldn’t…” or “you will…” or “you won’t…” Instead be open for reassurance with no judgment or expectation in return.
2. Understand The Grieving Process
The more you understand and know about the grief and loss process, the better assistance you may be to your grieving loved one. It may be helpful to at least know the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Keep in mind that not everyone goes through every stage of grief and the stages may be experienced in any given order. The grieving process is as uniquely experienced, as we are unique individuals.
3. Eliminate Time Tables
Allow time to do its work in its own time. There is no ‘normal’ grieving period. The process of healing is varied and gradual, it happens over time. Whether it takes a day or a year, don’t be compelled to urge your loved one to ‘just move on…’ Remember, the grieving process is different for everyone. The pressure of a speedy recovery may actually prolong the overall healing process.
4. Offer Understanding and Validation
Be comfortable in silence. Listen with compassion. Allow your loved one to lead. Be sensitive, not nosey. Respond with wisdom. Don’t intentionally avoid the topic of the loss. If the bereaved goes there, follow with assurance and comfort. Offer assistance, keeping in mind that it is not uncommon for the bereaved to feel guilty or burdensome for receiving help.
5. Watch Out For Increased or Worsening Depression
There is nothing unusual or strange about experiencing feelings of sadness and depression following a loss. In fact, it is actually quite the norm. Nevertheless, if you happen to notice that your loved one’s symptoms of depression and sadness are gradually worsening as opposed to improving over time, you may have cause for concern. There a few signs and symptoms to be mindful of if you believe that your loved one’s grief is evolving into a more serious clinical issue of depression:
· Increased withdrawal and/or isolation
· Neglect of self-care (personal hygiene)
· Disinterest in otherwise enjoyable activities
· Hallucinations and/or delusions
· Feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness
· Drug and/or alcohol abuse
· Anger outbursts or increased irritability and frustration
· Interest in dying or thoughts of suicide
If you suspect or have determined that your loved one is in danger of a suicidal attempt or act, take it seriously! Reach out for help immediately. If needed, do not hesitate to call the Suicide Prevention Helpline for assistance at 1-800-273-TALK.