Let Them Mourn
Suffering through an illness or loss can take someone into a lonely place. While we would love to sympathise, we can sometimes cause more hurt instead of making them feel better.
According to counselling psychologist AndrÈ Casey-Allen, "Speak to them about the recovery period and the support you will be giving during and after. At the same time, do not make promises you do not intend to keep."
He continued, "While there are different types of support, and they vary from person to person, it should be the kind of support that will relax and release them of any form of anxiety. For example, reassuring them that their major responsibilities will still be fulfilled is a very good and tangibly way to give support."
He said that during these very difficult times, it is important that we watch what we say because not everything that is said to comfort is actually comforting.
"I know how you feel is one statement you should avoid," said Casey-Allen. "The reason is it doesn't work. No two grieves are the same. Assuming you know how another person is feeling or processing something is just that - an assumption."
Another statement he advised avoiding is, "God is in control." Casey-Allen explained that this falls in the bad-timing category of statement. Though this might be true, he said, persons going through difficult times would prefer to know that God is understanding and feeling their hurt.
When someone has suffered a loss, this may affect them in many areas, causing them to become withdrawn. So it is great when a group of friends can form a network for this person. "Although there are times when the bereaved needs his or her time and space, friends should always be available to render support when needed," Casey-Allen advised.
"Keeping active will also aid with coping with a loss. People who are involved in a variety of recreational, worship, work or other activities, find that they have fulfilling involvements that help soften the pain of death and other losses.
Maybe the adage, "the devil finds work for idle hands", becomes relevant in this case. In other words, no work or activity will invite the devil to recreate painful experiences and memories," he elaborated.
Casey-Allen said stimulating mental health and theological understanding that there is life after death is also something that will help the person who has just lost a loved one. The most important thing is observance through silence.
"Whenever in doubt as to what to say or what impact your words may have on the bereaved, don't say anything. Use non-verbal language. Holding hands, shaking hands, giving a hug or a smile with eye contact can speak adequately about what you want to express."
He said there are definitely two things you should avoid saying. First, "Saying 'You know you may not believe it now, but you'll get over it' is only saying that there is light at the end of the tunnel. How could anybody argue with that, right? However, it can rub the bereaved the wrong way. The bereaved, in fact, may be saying, "I will never get over it. Nothing can ever fill the loss for me for the rest of my life'."
He noted that this statement will only cause resentment if said prematurely. One must remember that their objective is not to help the individual to forget but to console.
Second, "You know he or she wouldn't have wanted you to feel this way." Casey-Allen said this statement will cause the person to feel guilty. You are telling them that when they mourn, they are disappointing the person who passed, pushing them into withdrawal.
"It may be appropriate to say that the deceased person would've wanted his or her loved ones to continue their heritage of love and compassion through their own lives," said Casey-Allen.
Finally, he said, "People are usually surprised that reactions to trauma can last longer than they expected. It may take weeks, months and, in some cases, many years to fully regain equilibrium. Many persons will get through this period with the help and support of family and friends. But sometimes friends and family may push people to 'get over it' before they're ready. Let them know that such responses are not helpful for you right now, though you appreciate that they are trying to help."