When someone dies

October 29, 2020 | 2 comments

As we’ve talked about in other posts, grief exists when there is loss. All loss involves grief, whether of a job, a person, or a country you used to live in. But sometimes “grief” is too broad a brush to paint with, and we need to focus on one type of loss. Today, we continue the conversation and focus on how to help when someone dies.

Many questions come up when someone dies. How do I care for their loved ones as they grieve? What are the do’s and don’ts? What should I say and not say? Most of us would rather hide in a hole until the person feels better, or send them a note from afar rather than walk closely with someone who is grieving. As a grief specialist, the struggle for me is real as well. 

Let’s be honest: it is painful and uncomfortable to show up for someone who is grieving. It takes energy and courage to face the things in life we would prefer to avoid, and often we don’t know what to do. 

If we, who are removed from the death, are feeling this way, how do you imagine the person who is in close relationship to the deceased person is feeling? They are perhaps drowning in the pain of the loss, the discomfort, and the enormity of it all. 

Below are a few important things to consider regarding loss that will assist you in feeling more confident as you show up and love others in their pain of loss. Use today’s conversation as a starting place, and let’s continue the dialogue! And I understand that grief is handled differently in every culture, so you might need to take these points and culturally interpret them. But I would encourage you to read through these do’s and don’ts with an eye for how you can use them, instead of thinking how they won’t work in your context.

Best to Avoid (Don’t do it):

Forget what has taken place for this person. 

Try to fix it, make life happier, or look for the bright spots, ignoring the painful spots.

Avoid mentioning the person, event or loss.

Minimize pain. We do not try to lower grief intensity; we do not consider its surges problematic, nor applaud its quieting. How often do we place values on how we manage grief or any emotions? Regulating emotions means attending to both painful and pleasant emotions. Accepting grief means we do not try to lower its intensity (Dr. Katherine Shear).

Helpful to Do (Do It!): 

Show up. When caring for others who have lost a loved one, it is essential to shows up; just be there. The how of the showing up is not so important as the showing up. Often people feel uncomfortable around the person who has experienced the death of a person; this can be very isolating and create additional losses, as well as a sense that they are fully alone in their darkest hour. You might need to be creative if a teammate returns to their passport country because of the death of a family member; or if your friend lives in another country; or if your local friend is expressing grief in a way that is foreign to you. But you can do it, you can find creative ways to show up . . . by showing up, you are building hope!

Understand this is not going to be easy, and it is going to take time.            

Ask God to help you to find peace and to rest in the midst of it. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to meet the needs of the person you are caring for.

Be consistent in your care. Continue to show up and give the person freedom to feel and experience whatever they are experiencing. 

Use direct and compassionate words. Ask the person how they are doing with the death? Tell stories about the person. Talk about how your grief has been in relation to the named person. 

Ask the griever what they need and want.

Be willing to be educated; humbly seek to understand and learn:

a) Grief is often much different than what we imagine, and each experience is so individual. Not only this, but grief changes and . . . . sometimes changes rapidly.

 b) Ask what someone is going through and what they need. That question alone may bring deep healing. As I have spoken to people grieving many say, “People just don’t understand,” or “They really don’t get it.” With your questions, you will help them to feel less isolated.

c) We likely don’t really understand their loss because every death is unique, so let them tell you what you don’t get. Even if you think you know, there is more to know about this particular death. Often this helps people feel heard, loved, and seen. 

In summary, offer support to those experiencing grief and loss. Check-in, offer love and support, then do it all again and again. Grief is ongoing, and it lasts for a long time, therefore, let your support and love be ongoing. This diagram from What’s Your Grief is a wonderful visual of this: 

With loss we often want to check it off of our list and move on. I sent a card . . . check, I sent flowers . . . check, I went to the funeral . . . check, and I never want to think about it again . . . check. As someone removed from the loss, there is a strong desire to run from or ignore it. As we wrestle with this, remember the person who has experienced the loss firsthand does not have the luxury to run. By being present with them, we can provide hope that healing is possible and/or be a friend to walk with in the midst of the pain. 

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other…And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” Colossians 3:12-15

May God help you step into the grief of your friends and loved ones as you bear with each other.

What have people done that helped you when a loved one died?

Additional Resources:

How To Help A Grieving Friend: Beyond The Basics from What’s Your Grief

Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D

Help Someone in Grief by The Center for Loss

The Center for Complicated Grief


Tuesday, November 3rd, we will practice stillness and silence in community for ten minutes. Use this zoom link and use the phrase “bestill” when asked for a code to enter. We will start at 7:00 a.m. MST (time zone converter). See you Tuesday!

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    One of the things that meant the most to me when my mom passed away was all the special memories that people shared with me about how she had impacted their lives. I think it ministered to my heart because I could see that others saw what a special person she was, and that she would be missed.

    Sometimes it’s the smallest things that mean so much. On the day Mom died, a friend brought a box of my favorite tea and just left it on the porch. That really touched my heart.

    Reply
    • Katie Brown

      Kathy,
      Yes this is so true! I appreciate you sharing this. Being seen and knowing you are not in it alone is very powerful. I love the examples you shared, because as you said the simple things mean so much.

      Reply

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