Tomorrow is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I’m blessed to have many relatives that live well into their eighth and ninth decades. I had more than my fair share of time to love him in this life. But, that doesn’t take away from the longing to still be with him. That doesn’t take away from the longing for him to guide and observe how my life is moving forward. I believe that grief teaches us that life is temporary and death is final. This lesson can’t truly be grasped with just our analytical mind. During the grief process, the lesson is taught in the heart.
I’m not an expert on this topic nor have I experienced the more traumatic ways that loss can occur in one’s life. The tips below just scratch the surface on ways to serve in times of grief, but it is a topic I wanted to cover. Anyone that focuses on serving people will have the opportunity to serve someone that has lost a loved one.
1. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on but still need to get done. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.
2. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better”. Be there to remind them that these episodes of sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.
3. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.
4. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to actively stay present and supportive for a minimum or two years.
Like I said in the beginning, these are just a few ways to support those in periods of grief. What other suggestions do you have? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Serve on!