I meet with individuals and families each week who tell me about things they are celebrating, like retirement, weddings, births, anniversaries, and other wonderful events. I also have clients who tell me sad stories about losing loved ones, divorces, dementia, difficult family relationships, and much more. Last year, I attended a conference and heard Amy Florian speak about her studies of grief, and I became passionate about helping those around me who are grieving.
In Amy Florian’s book No Longer Awkward, she describes different types of losses people grieve. A material loss could be a house that burns down, a car stolen, or a failed business venture. A relationship loss could be the death of a family member, divorce, infidelity, or dissolution of a business partnership. An intrapsychic loss is the loss of a dream or hope, like infertility, unfulfilled goals, or parenting a child with disabilities. Someone who is aging, experiencing dementia, or has a sudden injury has a functional loss. A role change loss is a promotion or demotion, an adult child caring for aging parents, or becoming an empty nester. Finally, a routine loss could be retirement, becoming a parent, moving into a retirement community, or starting graduate school or night classes.
Even though we all experience loss at some point, most of us do not know how to respond appropriately when someone else is enduring a difficult situation. I learned a few things that can help in these situations:
- Don’t make comparisons. If you experienced a similar difficult situation, it is probably not going to help this person feel better. Only share your story if they ask for it. Be present and listen to the person grieving.
- Ask open-ended questions. Don’t say, “I am sorry,” and walk away. Be present and ask them what they wish people knew about what they are going through.
- Don’t look for the silver lining or say, “Be grateful that your situation is only this bad.” Instead, be compassionate and listen. Often, it is best to just listen instead of offering advice.
- Help even if they don’t ask for help: make a meal; send flowers; send a card; buy groceries; or offer to make phone calls. Often, people won’t ask for help when they need it most.
When in doubt on what to say or how to act with a grieving person, just give them your presence; listen to them; and be compassionate.
- Compassionate Communication – Amy Florian
- No Longer Awkward – Amy Florian
- The Communication Guys Podcast “What to Say to Someone Who is Suffering” 10/23/17
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