Traditionally, when a loved one dies, we are there to bring them condolences, food, hugs, support, and even caring for children or other tasks. In this era of the pandemic with social distancing, staying at home, avoiding contact with others, we can no longer depend upon the usual practices of helping others who are grieving. Making a phone call, sending a card, texting, or sending an email can be a lot less comforting to the grieving, but we can still aid them in their grief even though we are greatly hampered in our ability “to be there for them.”
While we may not be able to be physically present, we can still offer our condolences. One can say many things that are positive and helpful to the grieving.
1. I am sorry for your loss.
2. I am sorry that I cannot be present for you or even give you a hug.
3. I wish that I knew what to say, but at least, know that I care.
4. You and our loved one are in my prayers.
5. Please phone me if you need help with getting groceries, a ride to the doctors, or any other errands that I can do for you.
6. My favorite memories of our lost loved one is_________.
7. Here are some of my favorite pictures of our loved one.
8. I have sent you music, poetry, drawings, art, children’s drawings of the loved one, and other artistic items that would have meaning to the grieving loved one.
9. Offer to help set up a zoom or other video means to help others be a part of the vigil, wake, funeral, and gravesite rituals.
10. Send cards or other remembrances of birthday, anniversaries, special holidays, and the day of the death.
There are also things that should not be said.
1. She (he) lived a full life.
2. She (he) is no longer in pain.
3. She (he) lived a full life.
4. God has another saint in heaven.
5. I know how you feel.
6. Be strong, get over it, get on with your life.
7. There is a reason for everything.
8. It was their time.
9. She (he) was such a good person, God needs her (him).
10. At least you have another child, you are young enough to remarry, etc.
It is important to not minimize their loss. We cannot fix their loss or make them well. It is not our job to take their grief away, but rather we need to support them as they grieve. We need to also remember that we are also grieving, and we must be careful to not expect them to grieve in the same fashion and time frame that we are experiencing in our grief. Our task is to offer support, not judgment! Our fears will make us less able to be supportive in a positive way. We may be afraid that we will say the wrong thing, make them cry, cause them to be angry, or that we will cry because of our own grief. Having honest feelings and emotions is comforting to others who are grieving. If we truly loved the person who died, it is okay to share that with the grieving person. There are many scenarios involving death of a loved one: divorce, suicide, death of an elderly person, death of a spouse, death of a child, death of a sibling, and so many more. Each scenario has its own special needs. If the person who died was you spouse who has remarried, the spouse may or may not welcome your sharing that you loved the spouse who died, but they may be comforted that she or he was such a good person that even the divorced spouse still loved him or her. How does one comfort a parent whose child suicide? Each scenario has special issues and needs that we need to take into account when talking with grieving loved ones. Grief is complex. We may be unaware of abuse, drug or alcohol problems, financial issues, or so many more problems that people face. Sharing feelings is also difficult. It is hard to know how we feel. Our feelings change. It is also difficult t articulate our own feelings. We should not expect them to share their feelings if we ask for them. It the grieving person is able to truly trust you, they may try to share their feelings, but it is important to remember that they also have problems identifying their own feelings and have problems trying to articulate how they feel. Those who share a faith will be able to use that as a starting point. Faith is not a feeling or a contract, but rather, faith is a relationship. All of us experience loss. It is not a question of if bad things will happen, but when will they happen.
If you are the grieving person, it is also important to be aware that others are trying to help, but they often do not know how. They may try to say things that they think are comforting that are actually hurtful. They will likely be uncomfortable being around you as a grieving person, so they may not be present as they had been before. They may also be afraid that they will make you cry, even though crying may be exactly what you need. As we need to be patient with those trying to help us, we also need to be patient with ourselves. Grief is not something that you get over, but rather, grief is something that you learn to live with. The pain of loss does not go away, but it does become manageable. It is important to remember that our loved one would want us to be happy, to live fully until we die, and to continue our relationship with them. Everyone that we love is not with us all the time. We can continue to love those who we have lost as we continue to love those who are still with us!
About the Author
Gerry R. Cox is a professor emeritus of sociology at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. He served as the director of the Center for Death Education & Bioethics. He has over one hundred publications including books. He has served as editor of Illness, Crisis & Loss and for The Midwest Sociologist. He is a member of the International Work Group on Dying, Death, and Bereavement; the Midwest Sociological Society; the American Sociological Association; The International Sociological Association; Phi Kappa Phi; and the Great Plains Sociological Society.