The biggest misconception that the Western world has about communicating with the bereaved is that they don’t bring up the loved one for fear it will upset them, so they say nothing. Hear me and trust me they are already thinking about the loss 24/7 for a long time and if you do not say at least, “How are you doing since you lost your husband, wife, mother, father…,” then you will appear uncaring. Use the deceased name; do not pretend they never existed.
After my husband of 27 years died suddenly all the people in my life sifted into two categories (1) those afraid of my pain, and trust me it was scary, and (2) those brave enough to go in. No one could fix this, no one could bring him back, so all the brave were doing was they were willing to be with me and listen and that was huge. I do not remember talking about anything else for at least a year. I needed several people to handle the load; it was too much for one person.
What I needed and received from my heroes was empathetic listening or listening with empathy.
They didn’t judge me when I was honest with my pain and the injustice of what happened. They tried to see from my perspective and they listened and were there. They didn’t tell me how to grieve, just encouraged me to feel, because if I didn’t feel the pain I would never get to the other side to where I could feel joy again. You either turn off all emotions or leave them on. We can’t pick the good ones, like the candy from a box of chocolate.
Give your friend your full attention. They would rather have you fully present for 5 minutes than sitting for an hour while playing on your phone and texting and checking Instagram.
Listen for feelings, not just for facts. If they say they are fine, but won’t look you in the eye they are lying. Give them non-verbal encouragement by head nodding and pats on the hand. Do not be afraid of silence. Do not be afraid of tears. It’s not a job interview or a speed date, just let them be while you are there for them if they want to talk.
Try restating and rephrasing what you heard them say. For instance, “I hear you when you don’t know if you will survive another night alone and in pain. If you need me call me so maybe you won’t feel as lonely.”
And please do not interpret God’s intentions for them. If He needs them to know something He will tell them.
There is so much I have learned and am learning through loss. My partner and I at Resolution Solutions have a passion for helping people, whether families or individuals, learn how to communicate again after loss by communication coaching and conflict resolution. If you feel you or a loved one could benefit from our services feel free to reach out: info@ResolutionSolutions.net or visit our website www.resolutionsolutions.net