4 Tips to Providing Care to the Bereaved
- Knowledge. Take time to learn about your survivor – how she is being impacted by the loss, the nature of her relationship with the one who has died, and how she mourns and copes.
- Be Present. While words are important, empathy and understanding are more often conveyed by a caregiver’s quiet, patient, enduring, and receptive presence in the lives of survivors as they heal one step at a time over what may be a lengthy period of active mourning – sometimes one step forward for every two steps back (resurgences of grief when encountering reminders of loss are natural and normal, and are not necessarily indicative of regression or lack of forward movement). Survivors may need to talk about their loss experiences and those who have died, while on other occasions they may need quiet presence, shared activity which distracts from loss, or assistance with material concerns (tasks associated with changing roles and responsibilities – home and lawn care, filing of tax returns, tending to post-mortem legal and financial matters, et al.). Don’t be afraid to ask the survivor for guidance concerning what she needs in the way of support.
- Observe. Be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of major depressive disorder – a condition requiring medical and psychotherapeutic attention (a clustering of symptoms which does not lessen in intensity over a period of weeks): isolation, eating and/ or sleeping too much or too little, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, depressed mood, anger and irritability, hopelessness, et al. Giving a survivor permission to practice good self-care during a season of enormous stress (eating well and drinking plenty of fluids, asking for assistance with basic needs, slowing the pace of life and reducing one’s commitments in order to allow for additional rest and respite, et al.).
- Choose words carefully. Responding with explanations, cliches and pat answers to a survivor’s loss experience only add to her distress and sense of isolation. Let her know that you care, that you are available to help in ways that facilitate comfort, that you are thinking of her, and that you are saddened by the loss are all reassuring avenues of conveying empathy and understanding.
Free Workshop for Clergy: Community Grief Support will host a free half-day seminar for ministers and clergy entitled “A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leadership in Bereavement Ministry” on Thursday, April 28. Participants receive a free guidebook as well as complimentary breakfast and lunch. See Calendar page 28 for registration details.