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Good Grief

By Amy Austin RN, PsyD, LMFT

There’s one thing no one gets out of this life without experiencing, and that’s dealing with the loss of a loved one, friend, co-worker, community member and even a famous person who left their indelible mark on many.

Yet, even though death is a given, many of us enter a state of denial as we deal with the myriad of emotions that precede, and continue after, someone near and dear passes.

Now, the hard part. What do we say? What can we do when someone is dealing with grief and loss? People try to be loving and caring and many are genuinely and authentically supportive. I’ve experienced grief firsthand and have also been in the presence of people grieving a loss and have wanted desperately for the mourner to know how heartfelt my sentiments were. At the same time, I sometimes felt helpless to express my innermost feelings appropriately. Many of you may have felt the same.

So, when in doubt, learn. Here are a few tips that might make you appear kinder, gentler and more consciously sensitive when comforting a person in mourning :

  • A funeral and any planned event after is not a social event. It is a time to be seen and not heard. One should enter quietly and not initiate conversation. Silence is golden. A warm hug or a gentle touch of the hand can go a lot farther than words. Eckhart Tolle has said that meaning can be found in the gaps between sentences. This is not a time to talk about personal problems or how your aunt suffered from the same illness. You can share wonderful memories when warranted. Take your cues and follow the flow of the grieving family.
  • It is not a time to let the mourner comfort you. Please understand that mourning is a time when the mourner is not their usual friendly self and may not have to energy or be in the mood to extend more than a smile, hello, or a hug.
  • Try not to ask irrelevant questions. Does it matter what the person died of or how old they were? The important thing is that the mourner lost someone dear, even if they were 100!
  • Stay far away from cliched phrases like, “He’s in a better place now” or “You’re lucky you had him for the time you did. I lost my father when I was twenty.” I’ve even heard, “You shouldn’t look so happy.” There are people that are just relieved their loved one’s suffering is over. This is far from being happy.

A simple, “I’m here for you and am happy to just sit quietly with you right now” can do wonders during such an emotionally challenging time. People really do mean well, but they might lack the appropriate social skills mingled with compassion and intuitive sensitivity.

Just know that the easy stuff is not where we learn about life’s most important lessons; it’s all of life’s struggles that provide us the unique opportunity to shine.

Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

2 Responses to “Good Grief”

  1. Lindy Shortt says:

    Dear Dr Austin,

    You have graciously explained how “to be” around those grieving a loss.

    Without any judgement you hit all of the “right notes” of caring, decorum and sensitivity.

    I am sure that your advice will help those grieving and those who are comforting the grieving.


    Lindy Shortt

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