The sense of not knowing what to say or do, the fear of saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing, and the underlying knowledge that this is something we simply can’t ‘make better’ often leads people to avoid bereaved families. This only serves to increase their isolation.
Most families express the feeling that it helps when people acknowledge the significance of their loss. We can never truly know how another person feels even if we have experienced a similar situation ourselves – everyone’s experience is unique – but we can give families the opportunity to talk about the person who has died and express their feelings if we are willing to listen.
Talking, mentioning that person’s name and sharing memories is therapeutic. Practical support can also be invaluable to families – the friend or neighbour who cooks a meal or takes a basket of clothes to iron is often greatly appreciated.
It is important in supporting bereaved families that we take our lead from them, and do not assume that we know best what will help them. People’s needs are very different. It may be tempting to think it helpful to clear out a nursery after a baby has died, or to pack a child’s possessions away, but it is crucial that this kind of decision is made by the parents when they feel ready. Those who have been bereaved have been robbed of so much – it is vital that in our helpfulness we do not inadvertently rob them of even more.
Information can also be very supportive to bereaved families. The host of practical considerations surrounding a death can be extremely difficult for grieving families to take in and retain. Help and guidance through this process can be invaluable.
Information may also be very important in helping the family make sense of why the death has occurred, and in understanding the differing grief reactions of family members.