Some people are uncomfortable sharing their feelings. Also, some people might have a different perspective and are not grieving much when we think they would be grieving. We want to listen to
them if they want to share, but not nudge them to share if we caringly express our sympathy, and they give a short close-end answer.
Any statement similar to the above can be perceived as dismissive to the one who had passed. Yes, we are grateful that other aspects of our life or our three other children are well. Yet, this does not
make the loss any less painful or easier. Most grievers would think, "Yeah, I'm grateful, but I want the one who had passed away to be here too." Also, during the early stage of grief, when the wound is still
very raw, those with children or pets sometimes feel the loss even more when they look at the surviving siblings, children, or pets. This is because the ones who are still here remind the grievers of the one
who has died. Many grievers find this well-meaning suggestion very offensive and make them feel misunderstood.
Instead, you may share a good memory about the deceased if the grievers are sharing stories already. If they are quiet, please allow them to be. Also, make sure the story/memory you share is well known to the griever already, not something that might surprise them. Most grievers are in an overwhelmed, self blame,
and questioning state; even a good surprise can exacerbate this.
The #1 big DO when interacting with grievers: Be a heart with ears and open hands
Grieving or not, we all want to feel heard.
People will feel heard when we:
Listen with love and patience.
Listen with no judgment.
Listen with no expectation.
Listen without trying to give them feedback.
Some grievers would share their feelings.
Some would share fun, joyful memories, jokes, and random stories.
Some would rather not say a word.
Just be there for them with open hands: no expectation but ready to help if asked.
Be a Heart With Ears & Open Hands is always a "Do."
Bonus Dos: Compliment on something objective.
Compliments imply that you pay attention and care about them. However, you want to compliment something they wear or do/did, but not about them. Many grievers feel guilty or doubtful about
themselves. Paradoxical as it sounds, compliments about them can trigger their doubt or guilt or make them think you are bluffing. For instance, you might say, "I love how the color of your glasses matches
the color of your shirt," instead of "You look good today.”
Appreciate how their specific action benefits you.
Your appreciation of how their specific action benefits you makes grievers feel better for two reasons. First, this type of appreciation implies that you pay attention to them. Attention implies care. Secondly,
it helps them feel they are beneficial to you. People, by nature, are altruistic. Feeling that they are contributing makes grievers feel better, without feeling obligated to do something/being demanded.
Lastly, the specificity reduces the chance of grievers' confusion or doubt about your sincerity.
Less is More
Have you ever heard the expression “Less is More?” Many people in this modern society feel uncomfortable not doing or saying things. We are conditioned to be productive, and many believe doing
things, including saying something, is evidence of productivity or care. Some feel we are not helpful if we are not doing things.
But grievers need space: emotional space and sometimes physical space too. More activities, and more words, often only make grievers feel misunderstood and even more overwhelmed.
When interacting with grievers, often less is better for them. The only exception is if they are in danger of hurting themselves or others; if so, please get professional help immediately.
My heart is with you that you and your client/team member/loved ones encounter grief. I hope this information helps you navigate grief with a little more ease. As you may see now, some things that are helpful for grievers can be counter-intuitive to the ones whose hearts are not broken. Please know that I am here for you and your clients/team/loved ones if there are any questions or concerns.
DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Certified Grief Specialist, Certified Life Mastery Consultant