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Grief and Bereavement (cont.)

How Can I Help Others through Their Grief?

The bereaved are often alone and isolated because we fear doing or saying the wrong thing. Do not let that happen. How can you help?

  • Be yourself.
  • Take action (for example, call, send a card, help with practical matters).
  • Be available after everyone else gets back to their own lives.
  • Do not be afraid to talk about the loss.
  • Talk about the person who died by name.
  • Do not minimize loss; avoid clichés and easy answers.
  • Be patient with the bereaved; there are no shortcuts.
  • Encourage the bereaved to care for themselves.
  • Remember significant days and memories.
  • Acknowledge your limitations.
  • Do not try to distract the bereaved from grief through forced cheerfulness.
  • Guilt is common and often does not have a factual foundation. If someone wants to talk about it, encourage that, and do not attempt to stifle or explain guilt away.

Remen and Rabow present other approaches that have proven helpful to people coping with loss, along with those that are unhelpful.

What helped

  • Let me talk about it as long as I wanted to
  • Told me everything I was feeling was normal
  • Let me cry
  • Cried with me
  • Hugged me
  • Sat with me and listened
  • Called me back again
  • Was physically and emotionally present in the moment
  • Held my hand
  • Said "I am sorry" and meant it
  • Said "whatever your choice, I will support you"
  • Talked to me the same way after my loss as before
  • Made food for me
  • Listened and listened
  • Brought their dog

What does not help

  • Tried to problem solve
  • Changed the subject
  • Gave advice before they knew the whole story
  • Talked about themselves and their losses
  • Said "call me if you need anything"
  • Got me to take care of their feelings about my loss
  • Didn' t acknowledge my perspective
  • Explained how I caused the loss
  • Told others about our conversation without asking me
  • Said this will be a great learning experience
  • Gave advice without being asked
  • Told me "don' t cry"

Bringing Good Out of Our Grief

What can we learn when the death of someone we love brings us face to face with our own mortality?

Gandhi advised us to "live as if you were to die tomorrow." In like manner, Christian Furchtegott Gellert said, "Live as you will have wished to have lived when you are dying."

  • How differently would you live your life if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day on the face of the earth?
  • What would you make sure you said? To whom would you have said it? Who would you make sure to call, write, or see?
  • What would you have wanted to do?

Because no one knows the rate at which the grains of sand are falling through the hourglass of life, it makes sense -- each day -- to do and say those things that we would have wished we had done when our "appointed time" comes.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Grief and bereavement"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/11/2016
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