Even as we celebrated the periods of remission of illness, family and friends alike began to anticipate the loss of our friend way before his actual death. We knew that death was inevitable – it was just a question of when – as someone said “none of us get out of life alive.”
The benefit of this anticipatory grief was that it had the potential to help all of us prepare, emotionally and practically, for his eventual passing. Having lost other family and friends who were close to me, I knew that no matter how much you are prepared, how old or how ill someone you love is, you are really never prepared.
As the time became closer, Hospice staff encouraged family and friends to spend time together and provided continual progress updates about our friend/husband/father/brother/uncle’s condition. They explained any changes and symptoms that we found upsetting. They made sure the family had private time and encouraged them to speak with him, express their feelings and address some unfinished business. They provided emotional support and helped in the discussion of what I call the business of death – making funeral arrangements, notifying life insurance companies, attorneys, financial advisors, etc.
What can we do to help a family who has experienced a loss?
Because I had lost my first husband at a young age, people looked to me as someone who understood how everyone (friends and family alike) was feeling. On one level, I did….on another level I could not. Grieving is a personal and very individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried along.
Whatever your experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to take its natural course. Don’t let your own discomfort prevent you from reaching out to someone who is grieving. This is when your support is needed. You might not know exactly what to say or what to do, but that’s okay. You don’t need to have answers or give advice. The most important thing you can do for a grieving person is to simply be there when they need you. Your support and caring presence will help them cope with the pain and begin to heal. Acknowledge the loss but do not minimize it
Make sure support systems are in place . Offer your companionship. Your presence can be comforting to a grieving loved one; you don’t have to do anything special. Often, grieving people just do not want to be alone, but if they do, respect their need for personal space and time alone.
Ask other members of the family how you can help them or if there is anything they need at the moment
Be a good listener and allow people to talk about their emotions and share their pain
Assist in arranging other services as needed – food, household help, child care, the counseling of a social worker or clergy, a relative or friend to be with them for awhile after a death
Just be a friend.