Grief is an incredibly personal journey, and people generally feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed or lost for words when speaking to a person confronted with grief. When this occurs, there can be silence followed by an attempt to fill the void.
Grief etiquette, or how best to react in the face of someone’s grief, is not something that is commonly spoken about. Fortunately, there are experts who can help, and Dr Olga Lavalle, Clinical Psychologist, Grief Expert and Author tells us what to do and not do when someone is grieving.
Dr Lavelle’s top eight tips to help you stop being puzzled for words
- Don’t say….
There are things to say and not to say to someone who is grieving.
“He/she’s in a better place.”
“Time will heal”
“He/she was too young to die.”
Whilst well intentioned, these statements don’t acknowledge the pain that the person left behind is in, and it doesn’t give them any ‘space’ to share how they are feeling if they wish to speak about how they are feeling.
When you don’t know what to say just be honest and say, “I have no words to express my sympathy.” Simply listening to the griever and allowing them to talk is very helpful. Never say “I know how you feel” and then talk about the death of someone you knew. This is not what the griever needs. Everyone’s grief is unique and while we outsiders unfortunately cannot take their pain away, there are several of other ways that you can provide comfort and validate their feelings.
- Offer help
When offering help, make sure you follow through with your offer. Don’t say call me if you need anything because the griever won’t. The last thing a griever is thinking about is what they need while they are still coming to terms with the loss and trying to cope with it all. Instead, be specific and say what you can do for them for example, “I will call you in a few days to determine the best time for me to come and clean your place and help do the laundry, or just be an ear if you want to talk.”
- Don’t give advice
Only give advice if it’s asked for. This is really important because many people want to jump into being ‘Fix It Felix’ and to be quite honest, you can’t ‘fix’ this, so don’t offer unsolicited advice. Be careful not to tell a griever how to handle the funeral, how to feel, and what to do next. If they want advice or some practical hands on help, they will ask you.
- Keep visits short
Keep your visits short unless you are very close to the griever and they have asked for you to stay. Even then, remember that the griever needs time alone to rest, so do not be offended if the griever does not want any visitors. Everyone’s experience is unique, so be sensitive to their needs.
- Social media
The right thing to do is to follow the griever’s lead. Wait for the griever to officially announce the person’s death before you comment or post on your wall or theirs. Posting before the griever makes the official announcement can lead to other close family and friends finding out via social media, which is very impersonal and potentially very hurtful.
- Regular check-ins
Many people are there as soon as they find out about the death. They support the griever during the funeral process but tend to ‘fade away’ and a few months later. The griever is just starting to work out how to adjust to their ‘New Normal’. Ringing, texting, or messaging the griever several months after the funeral lets them know you are thinking of them, and that you understand this is a process…. Potentially a long one.
- Respect cultural rituals
It’s important to remember that different cultures have different rituals and that while flowers are a nice touch, different cultures have different interpretations for flowers. If you’re unsure of what grieving rituals or meanings are placed for various flowers, reach out and ask someone in the family.
Remember anniversaries, it’s always nice to make a phone call, send a message or flowers to let the griever know you are thinking about them. These significant dates like anniversaries and even birthdays of the deceased person can be very lonely days for the griever, so take a moment and let them know you are thinking of them.
Grief is a time to support the griever. Being there and listening to them is what they will always remember.
The Carousel would like to thank Dr Olga Lavelle for her article.
Dr Olga Lavalle is a Clinical Psychologist. She is a member of the Australian Clinical Psychology Association, as well as the Australian Psychological Society and Fellow of the College of Clinical Psychologists. One of her areas of speciality is grief and helping people manage it in all its forms.