By: Joe Agnello, Bereavement Coordinator

Grief is good! It is not a bad thing. Avoiding grief is what is harmful. It is our body’s natural way of coping with loss. However, bereavement is a special form of grief. The greater the love for the person who died, the greater is the intensity of grief. Bereavement means being “torn” just as a cloth with thousands of threads being ripped apart. Avoiding it hurts! What helps is passing through the grief to lessen its intensity. 

Grief is not an emotion. It is a group of emotions! We live our lives dependent on our environment to meet our needs. The most important part of our environment is our loved ones. When the people we depend on to meet our needs are “torn” from our life, we experience pain.

There are three aspects of life that help us to cope–family and friends, faith and resilience. Family and friends help us, but typically they do not know how. Teach them! Faith helps us but it is not clear how for most people. Teach them! Resilience helps us but some people don’t trust themselves. Encourage them to use their strengths!

In the beginning of the process of grief, a person is at first in a state of shock. Stop just talking to them and hug, hold, touch or just sit with them. Non-verbal communication is the way to relate to a person in shock because their cognitive abilities are bypassed by some very powerful emotions. 

As cognitive powers begin to return, which may be hours or days, a bereaved person grapples with learning to live without their loved one. Help them realize that death ends a life but it does NOT end a relationship! The bereaved keep their loved ones in their hearts! Their memories help them to cope with their physical loss. We all need help to focus on what we are grateful for and the memories we possess! Keep a continuing bond with your loved one!

At the very same time we struggle with our loss, we oscillate with getting on with our life. Don’t forget there are probably others who also loved your loved one. Help them! Teach people how to comfort the children and teens in their family– that puts them in the driver’s seat. Getting them to be intentional and proactive is an important part of moving on.

The first group of bereaved people is people who have what it takes to get through their grief without help. They have family, friends, faith and resilience! The second group of bereaved people is those who need help and they ask for it. The sad news is that the third group of bereaved people are those who need help but refuse to ask for it. Plant a seed in their heart that someone is always for them. 

Grief often hits the hardest 3 or 4 months after a loss. Sometimes that’s when people call for help. It is so hard for some people to ask for help. It takes patience and reminders.

The key to helping the bereaved families and friends is to form a loving companionship with them and focus on what comforts them. Grief never ends, but its intensity can diminish with social support.