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Supporting Your Grieving Friends

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a master class in Chicago on “Communicating with people going through the toughest times of their lives.” The class was an eye opener, and I want to share with you three things that I learned:

 

1. Grief is more common than we think.

Grief is associated with death because it is the most well-known cause but in fact, grief occurs when an attachment is broken. There are six types of grief-triggering losses:

  1. Loss of a relationship: for example, the death of a loved one or a child moving away to college
  2. Material loss: for example, the loss of a home
  3. Functional loss: temporary or permanent loss of cognitive or physical functions
  4. Loss of Role: for example, a CEO that retires and is no longer “the CEO”
  5. Intrapsychic loss: represents the loss of a dream. For example, a failed business or a failed marriage
  6. Systematic loss: this is the loss of faith in an entire system

 

In addition to the different grief-triggering losses, people mourn in two different ways. There are instrumental grievers and intuitive grievers.  Instrumental grievers are more analytic and tend to take action. Intuitive grievers are more in tune with their feelings and need to tell their story over and over again to heal. We are all somewhere between these two types.

Grief is more common than we think and sometimes hard to recognize. I shared this information with my Toastmasters group last week and received an email the next day from a member saying that he is a US Veteran and the presentation helped him realize that he had been grieving. Now he wants to learn more about grief and healing.

 

2. The “fog of grief” is real.

When someone is mourning, their brain gets flooded with cortisol resulting in concentration issues and difficulties remembering. The brain goes into “survival mode.” To help a mourner remember an upcoming appointment for example, encourage them to write the date and time themselves.

Remember to be patient with the mourner as she will have difficulties processing information.

 

3. Towards the end of my class, the grief expert said something that will stick with me forever. She said that your job is not to cheer your loved one up, but it is to be there for them and to listen to them.

During the session, we reviewed several phrases to avoid saying to someone grieving. Two of them were “at least…” and “You should be grateful that…”. All mourners have things for which they are grateful and at the same time, things that make them sad. For example, I am happy that my friend is no longer suffering but sad that I won’t hear her laugh anymore. When focusing on the “happy” side of the equation, the griever may feel that you are trying to minimize her pain and ultimately, she may feel misunderstood.

 

In summary, the three pieces of information I share with you are that grief is more common than we think, “the fog of grief” exists, and that our role is not to cheer our loved ones up when they go through the toughest times of their lives but to be supportive and to listen.

I find the topic of grief fascinating, especially because we have never been taught how to effectively help someone that is grieving or even how to recognize that a person is grieving. If you would like to learn more about this subject, I recommend A Friend Indeed by Amy Florian. She is the wonderful grief expert that taught the master class in Chicago and I am profoundly grateful for the new skills she taught me to help our grieving clients.

4 Comments

  1. 28 May 2019
    Pat Felbinger
    Reply

    Leslie,
    I enjoyed your article so much. Even though I’m working with Griefshare, I Iearned a couple of items & will save your excellent info as I agree with all you passed on to all of we readers. I will also buy Amy Florian’s book as I know I will glean more info to help others. THANKS LESLIE—ANOTHER FACET INSPRIED FINANCIAL HELP WE CLIENTS!

    • 29 May 2019
      Leslie Rea
      Reply

      Thank you Pat for this nice feedback. Let me know your thoughts on Amy Florian’s book!

  2. 22 June 2019
    Patty Zohlen
    Reply

    Leslie,
    I really appreciated your article on Supporting Your Grieving Friends. The information you related from your class in Chicago was very enlightening. I was able to pass along the things that you shared to a family member who is currently grieving the change in his family from a child moving away to attend college. It was reassuring to know that this is a “real” cause for grief and that it will get better. And that it is okay to just be there to support someone who is grieving and not to try to fix it for them.
    Thank you for sharing your lessons and new knowledge with us. It has been very helpful.

    • 23 June 2019
      Leslie Rea
      Reply

      Thank you Patty for your kind feedback, I’m glad that you were able to use this information to help others. It warms my heart!

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