Helping a bereaved person 101

I’m grateful for every single thing that people have done for me / us since Greg died.

I was touched beyond words when my Usenet and bloggy friends sent me messages and gifts to let me know they were thinking of us.  Beyond words.  The fact that people I’d never met IRL wanted to let me know they care just floored me. Their continued support with a comment here, a message there helps.

Similarly, I was grateful for the messages and cards from friends and family.  They let me know they were thinking of us and the stories about Greg they shared with me are treasures.

I was blown away at the number of people who took the time to come to the funeral.  I wish I’d had the courage to look around the church and see everyone … but I couldn’t.  Knowing that the church was packed with friends and family really helped.

I’m grateful that my (now) boss had the compassion to allow ANY teachers / aides /staff from school attend the funeral.  Knowing that the principal, deputy, head of curriculum, teachers, parents etc from the school community were there really helped.  The fact that he also gave me a job on the spot when I asked really has helped us all just so much.

I was humbled when the women from our church got together and provided hot meals to our door every night for two weeks.

I was thankful that friends continue to give us meals and treats just because.

I love how my BFF sends me an e-mail every single day and makes me laugh.  She is awesome.

My girlfriends.  They are here for me whenever I need them.  They understand that some days they just need to come and be here.

My wider family.  The road has been rocky at times but they have really helped.

…and then there is my mother.  Words cannot describe my mother.  I am truly lucky to have her.  She is the wisest, most compassionate, helping, healing person I know.  My Dad can take some of the credit here too.

…and of course my kids.  Some days I feel that they are my reason to keep living.  They are beautiful, intelligent souls and I am so very proud of them.

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But there are a few things I can think of to help others when trying to comfort a friend who is bereaved that I know would have helped me to actively DO something in my previous life.  You know, the life when I was happy and didn’t know what despair felt like and was trying to help bereaved friends.

Here are 10 things I can think of that I know now and I wish I knew then:

1. Use disposable containers for food if possible.  Or name them and call back for them in a few days time. I still have a platter here and I’ve got no idea who to return it to.  It sits atop my oven and mocks me.

2. Don’t expect the bereaved person to remember ANYTHING.  I have almost no short-term memory.  People think I’m joking because they are used to me being in control, organised, smart-yet-self-depreciating.  I’m not being self depreciating. I seriously can’t remember shit like I used to.

3. Grief is something you never get over.  I’m told that you can learn to live with it.  Don’t ask “so how are you really” if you don’t want to hear the answer.  Or don’t ask up front as it puts us into a position of having to respond when we may be struggling not to cry.  Especially at school where kids I teach might get confused to see me crying.
BUT dont’ not ask either.  Try just talking like a normal person and see where it goes.  Give the bereaved person enough space to say something without pressuring them into responding to a direct question.  Just “being” with a bereaved person is sometimes all that is needed and nervous chatter isn’t.  An alternative I like is when people say “I think of you often”.  Which brings me to…

4. Don’t say “what can I do to help” and expect the bereaved person to know straight away.  For a start, see point 2 above.   Either just DO something that you can do or tell them your plans for them but stress that they do not have to organise anything.
Speaking for myself, I’m all good with cooking and cleaning (mostly … although random window washers or vacuumers are always welcome) and childcare (lots of people have offered child minding, but the kids have lost their Dad too and we need to be together most of the time).
What I need help with is in mowing the lawn.  Servicing the car.  Changing the lightbulb in the stairwell which I need a ladder and 3 extra hands to do by myself.  Lifting heavy stuff like chook food out of the car and into the storage shed.

Make a definite time too – say “I’ll come over on Saturday morning to mow your lawn” or “I’ll drop by on Thursday afternoon to fix that leaking tap you mentioned”.

5. Remember that the bereaved person, especially the bereaved spouse will be living  the nightmare at some point every day (even on good days).  There is always the empty bed that you have to climb into at the end of every day.  The mornings when you wake up alone again.  I am told that the grief gets worse before it gets better.  The funeral is often conducted while the person is still in shock … a shock which may continue for months.  Then after about 4 months when everyone else is getting back to their normal life, we are left on our own (unless you have a BFF see above).  Be there for them and continue to be there for them.

6. Forget the platitudes.  I may just punch the next person that says “God never gives you more than you can handle” (he bloody well did). …

or “God needed him more than you” (cough … bullshit … cough)

or “Greg wouldn’t  have wanted to live if he couldn’t walk” (yes he damn well would have.  He would have done anything to stay with us).

…and if the bereaved person starts sprouting gibberish about  having talked to their loved one in a dream, or seeing signs from their dead partner, this is OK.  Don’t tell them they are being silly.  This is part of the processing for some people.

7. Be calm.  Take lots of deep breaths.  Calmness is catchy.  Be there.  Being at the important life events helps.  Calling on mother’s day was a biggie for me.  I imagine that I’ll be needing lots of phone calls and hugs on birthdays, anniversaries and deathdays.

8. Be thoughtful.  One of the nicest things a friend did for me was at a campfire party for a mutual friend – she knew that I’d struggle to be there and certainly wouldn’t be able to bring all the folding chairs and shite needed for this party – so she and her hubby brought extra chairs and blankets for us.  And wine. And at no point did I feel that  I was the single woman in a crowd of happy couples.

9. Share the memories.  Life stories are important.  Tell them what their loved one did for you / fun times you shared / memories. … unless of course you know they will be hurtful.

10. Listen with your heart as well as your ears.  Sometimes the words aren’t right but the heart knows what is needed…. like a shared tear and a big hug.

Above all, DON’T stop talking to the bereaved person.  You really have to try very hard to make them feel worse than they already do.  Just keep them in the loop.  Keep the e-mails, texts, quick conversations, facebook messages going.  Even a simple “I’m thinking of you” really helps.

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Some days I’m OK, and other days I could easily Just Stop and surrender to the emptiness.  This is when I need help.

I’ve been really lucky in having so much support.  It’s been ongoing support. It’s been good support.

I’m truly grateful.