Letting Go of Grief
Sadly, letting go of grief is not really what happens. More a diminishing of the grief over time as it wends its way through the affected person(s). Grief then, becomes a new milestone and marker for how the person navigates and understands their life to be from that point on. When a child dies, that loss, however young or unborn is a loss that has to be felt and grieved. The healing is the allowing of the grief to be felt and experienced. Any cutting short or interruption to that process can drive the grief inward, to potentially surface another time when a new grief or loss is felt!
Read our quick Summary of best things to do post-loss
- Contact the parent(s) as soon as possible after the death and do attend the funeral or memorial service if possible
- Allow yourself to listen to the bereaved parent or other person about their experience as they say it
- Focus your full attention on listening with care and compassion or more simply put – loving kindness
- If you are nervous or unsure how to support your friend, grieving relative or colleague, ask them how you can support them in this moment.
How to help the grieving person (vilomah) in the early days
These suggestions in the first few days include:
- Make contact with the bereaved person as soon as possible after their loved one’s death. Consider a personal visit, telephone call, text message, sympathy card or flowers.
- It is an important step to attend the funeral or memorial service if you can. They need to know that you care enough to support them through this difficult time.
- Offer your support and ask them how they would like you to support them.
- Listen to them if they want to open up to you and try to suspend all judgement or making any mollifying comments.
Grief isn’t a fixable thing
We naturally want to comfort people when they are upset and fix things for them. However, grief after a bereavement is not our job to fix.
There is nothing you can say that will make a bereaved person feel better about their loss; but there are things you can do to provide comfort and support for them during this difficult and ongoing time.
What is compassionate listening?
It can be hard to be in the same space as a grieving person and that’s why it’s the most important help you can offer.
Allow yourself to be open and supportive if your bereaved person expresses their grief to you, in whatever way it happens.
Grief and loss can go through various stages: from shock, denial, anger, sorrow, pain, acceptance or not. These are not linear stages and each person grieves in their own way.
Expect crying, angry outbursts, screaming, laughing, expressions of guilt or regret.
Or encourage them in activities that may reduce their stress, such as walking or gardening or seeking spiritual / religious support
Some things to consider:
- Focus on listening carefully and with compassion.
- You are not having a conversation as such. More a one-way listening
- Each person grieves in their own unique way. Have no expectation of what they are supposed to be doing!
- Put aside judgements, comments you think might be helpful to mollify their loss. Remember, there is nothing you can say that will ease their loss, certainly not at this time.
- Not everyone wants to talk about their loss. Support and comfort them by being with them if they want that. Sitting in silence is helpful too.
- When we ache in our bodies and heart, a loving touch or holding our hand can be a very compassionate way of showing support. However, ask permission first before you dive in with a hug.
Practical help for a grieving person
Offering practical help is another way of showing your care for them such as:
- Check what housework you could do for them, such as cleaning or laundry.
- Bring over a small shop for them. Again check what they usually eat.
- Bring food over ready-to-go or to go in the freezer. Start a meal roster with other friends or family. Check first what their food preferences are!
- Depending on your relationship with them, fielding calls from people could be helpful.
- Child pick-ups maybe helpful, walking the dog, and any other regular duties/activities that can be delegated.
- Be mindful too that they may not want you to support them in this way and their requests should be respected.
Avoid these things
Sometimes we think sharing our own experiences may help the bereaved person bear their loss more! Remind yourself – it won’t! Bear in mind, some of the things we think could be a good idea are often our own idea of what would help us better manage their grief and loss.
- Avoid sharing your own grief experiences to counter theirs or compare them in any way
- Resist the urge to give them your advice about how they can get over their grief
- Hold back on explaining the ‘grief stages’ as you know it or whatever else you have researched to help them
- Rationalising their grief
Avoid saying these things
Meaningful people can say meaningless things, especially in the face of grief and terrible loss. Here’s some things to avoid saying:
- At least you have another child…
- You are still young enough to try for another one…
- You will get over it…
- You will be stronger after this…
- Be grateful they are not in pain anymore…
- It must be such a relief that they are not suffering anymore…
- I know exactly how you feel…
- You have to be strong…
- Time heals all wounds…
- God called them…
- Another angel in heaven…
- Everything happens for a reason…
Grief further down the track
The grief of a loved one, no matter how young or old, or even unborn, never goes away. Yes, time dilutes the pain of the loss but also underscores the life of the affected person(s) as they re-emerge into their life again. They have irrevocably changed as they reconsider their sense of life purpose and ponder their future pathway without their loved one.
Some things to consider sitting with their grief and loss:
- We can shy away from the bereaved person, fearing some weird sense of contamination or fearing a constraint on ourselves.
- Accept the person wherever they are – whether it be a year later, five years later or more. Expect them to be holding their grief for a lifetime, albeit a more subtle version!
- Resist the urge to change the subject when your person brings up their loss. Remind yourself that they need to know that their loss is still in your thoughts, that you haven’t forgotten. It’s natural for them to want to talk about them. Who they were, might have been if they had lived and more!
- Speak the name of their person. Hearing the name out loud from one of their friends or family is deeply comforting and a confirmation that they lived.
- Remember the anniversaries of their loved one. Resist thinking, it’s four years later or more. Isn’t it being overly morbid to want to remember? Is it necessary to hold an anniversary at all? And yes, it is for them. Offer your support if you can at these times of remembering.
When to seek further help for grief
Most people find they re-emerge from their grief ably enough with the support of their family and friends and their own resources. They manage to find ways to live with their loss and do not seek professional help.
However, different circumstances for some people’s loss may require them to seek professional help. The loss may have been particularly acute and/or complicated. Or it was a fresh grief that sat on top of an older, perhaps not fully grieved other loss. Or it was a sudden, unexpected or traumatic death which deepened their distress in such a way that seeking professional help is necessary.
If your friend or relative is struggling to manage their daily life, consider suggesting they seek professional help.
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- Palliative Care Advice Service
- Your local community health centre, hospital or palliative care service
- A trained bereavement counsellor
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement – bereavement counselling and support services Tel. 1800 642 066
- Lifeline – crisis support and suicide prevention services Tel. 13 11 14 (24 hours, 7 days)
- Griefline provide a national toll-free helpline 8 am to 8 pm Monday to Friday (AEST) Tel. 1300 845 745. There is also a free Book a Call service allowing help-seekers the option to schedule a Grief Support Call from a specially trained Griefline telephone support person.
The Healing Practice
129B Balmain Road
Leichhardt NSW 2040
0438 216 351