Family and Friends Tips
FAQ's (click here)
Yes, there is much that you can do to help. Simple things. This guide suggests the kinds of attitudes, words, and acts, which are truly helpful.
The importance of such help can hardly be overstated. Bereavement can be a life-threatening condition, and your support may make a vital difference in the mourner’s eventual recovery.
Perhaps you do not feel qualified to help. You may feel uncomfortable and awkward. Such feelings are normal - don’t let them keep you away. If you really care for your sorrowing friend or relative, if you can enter into his or her grief, you are qualified to help.
In fact, the simple communication of the feeling of caring is probably the most important and helpful thing anyone can do. The guidelines, which follow, show how to communicate your care.
Telephone. Speak either to the mourner or to someone close and ask when you can visit and how you might help. Even if much time has passed, it’s never too late to express your concern.
Say little on an early visit. In the initial period (before burial), your brief embrace, your press of the hand, your few words of affection and feeling may be all that is needed.
Avoid clichés and easy answers. "He had a good life," "He is out of pain," and "Aren’t you lucky that...," are not likely to help. A simple "I’m sorry" is better. Likewise spiritual sayings can even provoke anger unless the mourner shares the faith that is implied. In general, do not attempt to minimize the loss.
Be yourself. Show your own natural concern and sorrow in your own way and in your own words.
Keep in touch. Be available. Be there. If you are a close friend or relative, your presence might be needed from the beginning. Later when close family may be less available, anyone’s visit and phone call can be very helpful.
Attend to practical matters. Discover if you might be needed to answer the phone, usher in callers, prepare meals, clean the house, care for the children, etc. This kind of help lifts burdens and creates a bond. It might be needed well beyond the initial period, especially for the widowed.
Encourage others to visit or help. Usually one visit will overcome a friends discomfort and allow him or her to contribute further support. You might even be able to schedule some visitors, so that everyone does not come at once at the beginning or fails to come at all later on.
Accept silence. If the mourner doesn’t feel like talking, don’t force conversation. Silence is better than aimless chatter. The mourner should be allowed to lead.
Be a good listener. When suffering spills over into words, you can do the one thing the bereaved needs above all else at the time - you can listen. Is he emotional? Accept that. Does he cry? Accept that too. Is he angry with God? God will manage without your defending him. Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not rebuke. Do not change the subject. Be as understanding as you can be.
Do not attempt to tell the bereaved how he feels. You can ask (without probing), but you cannot know, except as he tells you. Everyone, bereaved or not, resents an attempt to describe his feelings. To say, for example, "You must feel relieved now that he is out of pain," is presumptuous. Even to say, "I know how you feel, " is questionable. Learn from the mourner, do not instruct him.
Do not probe for details about the death. If the survivor offers information, listen with understanding.
Comfort children in the family. Do not assume that a seemingly calm child is not sorrowing. If you can, be a friend to whom feelings can be confided and with whom tears can be shed. In most cases, incidentally, children should be left in the home and not shielded from the grieving of others.
Avoid trivia. Avoid talking to others about trivia in the presence of the recently bereaved. Prolonged discussion of sports, weather, or stock market, for example, is resented, even if done purposely to distract the mourner.
Allow the "working through" of grief. Do not whisk away clothing or hide pictures. Do not criticize seemingly morbid behavior. Young people may repeatedly visit the site of the fatal accident. A widow may sleep with her husband’s pajamas as a pillow. A young child may wear his dead sibling’s clothing.
Write a letter. A sympathy card is a poor substitute for your own expression. If you take time to write of your love for and memories of the one who died, your letter might be read many times and cherished, possibly into the next generation.
Encourage the postponement of major decisions until after the period of intense grief. Whatever can wait should wait.
In time, gently draw the mourner into quiet, outside activity. He may not take the initiative to go out on his own. When the mourner returns to social activity, treat him as a normal person.
Avoid pity. It destroys self-respect. Simple understanding is enough. Acknowledge the loss, the change in his life, but don’t dwell on it.
Be aware of needed progress through grief. If the mourner seems unable to resolve anger or guilt, for example, you might suggest a consultation with the clergyman or other trained counselor.
Helping must be more than following a few rules. Especially if the bereavement is devastating and you are close to the bereaved, you may have to give more time, more care, more of yourself than you imagine. And you will have to perceive the special needs of your friend and creatively attempt to meet those needs. Such commitment and effort may even save a life. At the least, you will know the satisfaction of being truly and deeply helpful.
Copyright Amy Hillyard Jensen.
Frequently Asked Questions
This website is for the support of those who have experienced the death of a child, a grandchild or sibling. If you are in that situation, we are here to help.
Who or what are The Compassionate Friends?
The Compassionate Friends is a non-profit, self-help support organization for families who have experienced the death of a child of any age from any cause. There is no religious affiliation or membership fees. The secret of TCF’s success is simple: As seasoned grievers reach out to the newly bereaved, energy that has been directed inward begins to flow outward and both are helped to heal. The vision of The Compassionate Friends is that everyone who needs us will find us and everyone who finds us will be helped.
How do I know if it's too soon after my child's death to attend?
No one can say with certainty when is the right time to come to a meeting. Sometimes family members come shortly after the child has died while other times they wait longer. Some people who attend shortly after the child's death may decide not to come back until they're more ready. This is a personal decision.
Do I need a reservation before I come to a meeting?
No reservations are needed. Just come whenever you feel up to it.
If I go to a meeting, will I have to talk?
No one is required to talk at any meeting. We understand how difficult that can be when our grief is so fresh. We do ask that you listen, however.
Is there a charge to attend?
There is never a charge to attend a TCF meeting. Our chapters rely on voluntary donations from members, friends, and the community at large.
My child was an adult and didn't live at home. Can I still go to a meeting?
Chapter meetings are open to all families that have experienced the death of a child, at any age, from any cause. Regardless of our child's age, we in TCF believe our children will always be thought of as just that... our children.
My spouse won't come with me. Can I come alone?
Yes. We all grieve differently and your spouse or significant other may not be ready to take part just yet... or ever.
Can I bring a friend with me the first time for support?
Of course, you can bring a friend, but we ask that they, as well as all members, respect each other's privacy. It is important for us to be able to share freely within our group and be sure confidences will be respected.
Do men attend meetings?
Yes. Many chapters are divided almost evenly between men and women while others are not. Men grieve, too, and are welcome to attend meetings for support.
What happens at a meeting?
Some meetings we simply introduce ourselves and share our thoughts and feelings. At other times, chapters have short programs before or after the sharing time. The programs may include a brief guest speaker, viewing a video tape, or listening to an audio tape or CD. Chapters usually have special months when they hold a balloon launch or have a memorial candle lighting.
My child died from _____. Will I still be welcome?
Yes. All families that have experienced the death of a child at any age, from any cause, are welcome.
Religion doesn't matter to me anymore. Can people at a meeting accept that?
The Compassionate Friends has no religious affiliation. You will find TCF members are very tolerant of any views. After the death of a child, many priorities, as well as values, change.
I notice the meeting is in a church. Do I have to belong to a church to attend?
While TCF has no religious affiliation, chapter meetings are held in a wide variety of locations depending upon what is available in our communities.
I have babysitting problems. Would it be all right to bring my five-year-old with me?
While we understand the difficulties of finding child care, we must ask that young children not attend. Adult children (siblings) are welcome and encouraged to attend.
My child died seven years ago, and I postponed my grief work. Now it's catching up with me. Is it too late to come now?
We all grieve differently. Many parents don't feel the need for a support group until years after the death of a child. It's all right to come whenever you are ready, whether it's soon after your child's death, months later, or years later.
How long do people come to meetings?
People attend meetings until they no longer feel a need. Some attend just a few meetings while others come for years. Some are so thankful for the helpful support they've received that they stay to help in chapter leadership so they can be there for the next persons who walk through the doors seeking help.
Why is it that TCF recommends that I attend three meetings before deciding if it's for me?
Often, the first meeting brings a lot of emotions to the surface and this may make the first meeting difficult. Some say that they bring home the pain of others after listening to their stories. Attending three meetings gives you time enough to allow your emotions to even out and to understand that in sharing there is healing.