I recently saw a brief article in a newspaper written about Richard E. Grant. His wife died two years ago from lung cancer. Since then he has been surprised that some of their friends were avoiding him. Actually blanking him and making efforts to move out of his path – like crossing the road.
I find this to be incredibly sad. The person grieving may well not be in an emotional state to be open and accepting of interest in how they are doing, and they need to have the choice to refuse attention. Certainly in the first few weeks, they could be very tender and need space to process a massive change in their lives.
Yet, after a few months you can go to someone who is bereaved and extend a hand of openness and compassion. They may still not be receptive to your interest, and a challenge can be for you to not take it personally.
What you have done in that moment is to express your interest in how they are coping with that change, setting up a tone of acceptance and openness, ready for when they are able to talk more freely about those changes.
What can you do?
The Sue Ryder website has a lovely article about what you can say to someone bereaved. I’ve listed the headings here as they are a good summary to work from:
- Say how sorry you are
- Share a memory
- Offer them space to talk
- Tell them however they feel is OK
- Recognise how hard it is for them
- Ask if there is anything they need
- Tell them you’re thinking of them
- Sometimes you don’t need to say anything…
And sometimes, you don’t need to say anything. Just be there and available… If you know them well, you can perhaps give a hug.
We should remember our humanity and our connections with those who we know. We can be gentle with ourselves, to start somewhere. If you are nervous about what to say – say that: “I’m not sure what I can say or what might help – but I’m thinking of you.” You are saying, I acknowledge your situation and I feel for you. That will be enough.
As a corollary of this, you might gain some understanding of yourself if you reflect on your reaction… What is the feeling I have that goes with this? You might feel some discomfort, some anxiety within yourself… perhaps you too, need a kind word, a touch on your arm, a hug. Just for that moment, you can have empathy for the other person without losing yourself in the scenario.
You will make a difference. Take a breath, look up and exhale slowly.