What Anyone Can Do to Help a Mourner

What can you do to help someone you care about who is mourning a major loss in life? What do mourners need from those in their support network in order to cope with the stress of grief, and find the courage and strength to deal with all of the changes imposed by loss?

Here are three actions you can take to be of immediate assistance and help on the long journey of adapting to the new environment that has to be faced.

1. Be there. It seems at first blush that the obvious thing anyone should do is go to the side of the mourner. However, many people hesitate, sometimes out of fear or thinking that others will be there. What is important to consider is that, in the final analysis, only the mourner answers the question of who should be there. If you are a friend, your presence alone will never be forgotten. You do not have to say much. Being around and accepting the pain fills one of the most important needs of the mourner–recognition and validation of the loss and what the person is going through.

Allow the mourner to be in charge and take your cues from what he/ she have to say. Loss is always a part of a story that has to be told, especially when mourning. Let the mourner do this at his/her pace. Your greatest challenge as a caregiver to the bereaved is to deal with the silence and let silence play its role. In this vein, all too often caregivers try to say something in an attempt to break the silence and ease the pain, when their presence and not anything they say, speaks volumes. Nothing you can say will fix it. Share the mourner’s pain.

2. Do the chores. Be proactive and look ahead at what the mourner would have normally been doing if the loss had not occurred. Think about the responsibilities that one may have despite a loss. Who is most dependent on the person who is mourning? Are there others at a work place that should be informed? If there are children involved, consider what you can do to lighten the burden on the mourner in terms of caring for their needs.

Doing the chores is not an easy as it sounds. It frequently takes much time and effort for several days. You may also need to enlist the help of members of your own family or friends of the mourner. Sometimes the chores may include doing something with the mourner. Or you may sense you should play a supportive role in funeral planning or going to the funeral home with the mourner.

3. Don’t quit early. It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel that their assistance is no longer needed. Some caregivers grow tired of the ordeal. After a couple of weeks have gone by, many mourners report that those who have been most helpful tend to reduce contact. At first, this seems quite normal. However, it is just at this time when the mourner is often in most need of human contact.

If the loss was the death of a loved one, having to face the ordeal of living without the deceased, begins to be more stressful. Bills, new responsibilities, financial evaluations, new roles or demands often deluge mourners who at the very least need someone that will listen to their continued difficulties. Also, the false belief by many in the general population that grief is a short two or three week stint and the mourner should be getting back to normal, encourages pulling away and reduced contact.

In reality, the need for human contact never ends–for all of us. For months, a very special interest has to be taken in those who are mourning, sometimes up to two years. It is especially important to inquire how the person is doing in relation to the new surroundings that he/she is trying to adapt to. This should include being willing to talk about the deceased, especially when the mourner brings up the subject.

In summary, make every effort to push yourself to be around the person in pain, especially if you realize he/she wants you there. This is difficult. It is not easy to watch one that you care about suffer. Yet, the reassurance that the mourner receives by your presence is of immense value. This is especially true many months after the loss, as most people think the person is “doing so well,” when in fact every day is filled with hardships. Let the person know you are still there and aware.