Supporting the Grieving Following a Tragedy
The grief that occurs when there has been a tragedy can be so complicated. For the families directly involved, the emotions are overwhelming. Not only are they trying to cope with the fact that a loved one has died, there is so much to comprehend about “why” or “how” could this tragedy could have occured. Even the way they find out their loved one has died is overwhelming. Some find out because a police man knocked on the door. Others find out because they saw the news and realized their loved one was at that location when the tragedy occurred. And, on top of all of that, their loved one’s death is likely played out over and over again on media outlets. Now they must also cope with an utter deluge of public attention and public comments- not all of which will be positive, and quite likely a number of which will even be outright offensive.
What’s the best way to be supportive?
So, what’s the best way to support someone who has lost their loved one in a tragic manner? Most importantly, is to remember, this is about them, not you. DO NOT offer your opinion as to what should have/could have/would have happened. DO NOT offer your opinion essentially on anything, unless they have specifically asked you for advice on how to handle something. Knowing what to say following a death is already a very difficult thing to do correctly, so be extra thoughtful before you say something.
Another key point in helping support the grieving following a tragedy is to be extra patient and kind. The grieving person is going through a staggering amount of devastating emotions. They likely have slept and eaten very little, and are extremely exhausted. They may lash out at you or say ridiculous, even hurtful things. DO NOT take offense, DO NOT retaliate with your own words. Remember, this is about them, not you. They need someone who can be there for them, who can understand how difficult this is, and how they might not be at their best. They need someone they can count on, without that person expecting much in return. Grieving individuals simply do not have anything left to give to others during this time.
If I shouldn’t say anything wrong, should I just not say anything?
No, do say something. No one wants to feel like their grief is unacknowledged. But limit it to something simple, something that acknowledges their sorrow. We often feel like we must say more, offering words that will make the loss seem less traumatic. “At least he didn’t suffer”. Honestly, in the moment, these words are in no way comforting. The grieving person has just lost someone, they are focused on the fact that this person is suddenly gone, and their own heart has been ripped apart.
Or people want to put forward words that we think are offering support “I’ll be praying for you”. This has become, unfortunately, a meaningless statement. The same with “sending positive thoughts”. They are essentially empty words, and most often come across that way. If you are truly praying for someone, or sending positive thoughts their way, try instead to step back and think about what exactly it is you are praying for, or sending positive thoughts about. Make a list of how you can take actual physical steps to help that person that way.
Offer concrete help
So, if you are praying for them to ‘cope’ with the tragedy, for example, what does ‘cope’ mean? When I lost my husband one of the most difficult things to ‘cope’ with, was all the daily activities that continued on around me, regardless of his death. The simple things, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, taking care of the kids. I was sad and exhausted. Doing laundry took more energy than I had. Instead of offering ‘thoughts and prayers’, go help. Still pray, but also go help. Actual help. Don’t tell them to call you if they need anything, they are busy calling the funeral home, and the million other phone calls that need to be made. You call them. Don’t just cook a meal, either. Yes, that’s good, but maybe follow up with going over and doing the dishes from that meal, or perhaps their laundry while they eat their meal.
These are only a few tips on how to support the grieving. There are many articles online, and I encourage you to search out more. I’ve included a few links here as well.
Take Time – Acknowledge Your Loss – Grieve Together
http;//grievingtogether.ca black ribbons – pins – bracelets – arm bands