Sometimes, the most profound lessons in life come from the most surprising of circumstances. Yesterday, I found myself “accidentally” sitting in at a conference session I did not intend to go to. It had something to do with ‘dealing with grief’ or transitions in life or something, I wasn’t paying attention.
The presenter was Amy Florian, a Chicago-based “grief expert” who flew in specially for the conference. Do you know why I didn’t attend the session other than the fact that the topic wasn’t if interest? It because I looked at her picture next to her presso and thought “whoah, that’s a bad haircut. Anyone who can’t ecen get a decent haircut that is in keeping with the times (it looked like an 80s haircut) can’t possibly teach me anything useful. I know, right? How judgy. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t have a good hairstyle either. and I usually wait far the have oo long before I get my hair colour refreshed. Double standards, I know. And here you were thinking I’m a super-nice person. 😀
Lucky for you I ate serious humble pie not too long after. I decided to stay in for a couple of minutes but ended up trying to choke back tears at the end of her session.
She was giving tips on how financial advisers can better help their clients after death in the family or onset of dementia with someone in the family. But her tips are just as useful for everyone else that I thought I’d share it here. Hope this helps you as much as it’s helped me deal with my grief from past tragedies in my life.
1) When someone calls you to say their husband/mom/child/granny died, don’t respond by saying sorry. People who are grieving are shell-shocked and one way you can help them is allowing them to articulate their grief. That means keep the dialog open-ended. For example, it’s perfectly okay to be shocked, ask them how the person died, where it happened, how it happened. The presenter said, contrary to perception, they actually want to talk about the death. Saying sorry simply means they have to accept the apology when in fact, you’ve done nothing wrong and they want a different response.
2) Get personal. Don’t feel awkward about asking them questions about how they feel. Ask questions like, how did you feel when you found out about it; and six months later, you can still ask. You don’t have to avoid the question.
3) Do them favours that will allow them to focus on their grief. Feed the family pets, get the groceries, pay the bill, pick up the kids from school … anything that allows them more time on themselves can help.
4) Just because someone died doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. As a gesture of concern, you can write them a note or call them on birthdays/anniversaries/milestones of the person who passed away. The details can do wonders. For example, you can call them and say “hey, I know it’s your husband’s bday today and you used to start your day with lunch at your favourite pub, would you like me to swing by and we can do that this year?” or, I know you two always enjoy a bottle of champagne on your birthday, just sending you this bottle to say “cheers”, let’s have a toast in honour of him.”
Just because someone has died doesn’t mean people stop remembering their birthday or other celebration, allow your friend to grieve by giving him/her the chance to remember that person.
5) When they start crying, don’t give them a box of tissues. A box of tissue is a gesture that says “stop crying, your making me uncomfortable.” Instead, just let them cry and only offer tissues if they ask. One of the things that happen when someone dies is that the people left behind will feel like they’re not in control of their life. Controlling the situation (their tears) by offering them a box of tissues just make thins worse.
Also, crying relieves stress. When someone cries, their body releases hormones that relieve stress. You can’t fake it though. Cry over onions and there are no hormones. Just saline water in your tears.
6) This tip elicited a lot of laughter in the room. Don’t give well-meaning advice on what your friend ‘should’ do. Like, you should just get over it. You should move on.
“Don’t let anyone should over you.”
7) This was the most important tip: accept that grief is a multi-year process. It doesn’t go away after three months or a year. Grieving is a normal response to death and society has incorrectly programmed us to expect people to heal after a set time. This doesn’t happen. In fact, sometimes that grief will ebb and flow. It will stay with you because the person who died had an impact on your life and was a part of your life.
Grieving can last years or even decades. And that’s okay.
8) Finally, the person might feel that they don’t have a future. You need to guide them through this truth: they will, but it won’t be the future they had originally planned.
p.s. I wrote this yesterday but only posted it today because my day got so hectic I forgot!