How Can I Help?: How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving

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9781555611873: How Can I Help?: How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving
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How do you support someone who is grieving? When do you call? How do you help with practical matters? What kind of emotions can you expect to encounter?

June Cerza Kolf, long-time hospice coordinator and bereavement director, lends you a helping hand with these difficult issues. Listen to real-life stories that are easy to relate to, and benefit from concrete ideas to help others in each stage of grief. Being a support for someone who is grieving can be draining. June helps you remember to take care of yourself so you can keep on giving.

This supportive resource takes the mystery out of grief. Gain strength and knowledge from June's expert advice, and benefit from her hard-earned experience. You are needed--you can help.

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About the Author:

June Cerza Kolf served as director of bereavement and hospice-volunteer coordinator for a hospice organization in Antelope Valley, California, for more than 12 years. She has worked with both terminally ill patients and people in bereavement.

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Closure Immediately after a death occurs, or while survivors are participating in the rituals of the funeral, they need unconditional support. The speed and quality of the griever’s acceptance and recovery depends greatly on the closure that takes place between loved ones and the deceased. Never stand in the way of proper closure because you feel uncomfortable or are concerned about what others might think. Support the griever by allowing him to choose the best way to gain closure.

Unconditional Support A good example of this took place after my uncle died. The death came as a tremendous shock to me. I had no opportunity to prepare for his death or to say good-bye to him. However, all of the arrangements had gone smoothly until it came time for us to leave the cemetery. We had formed a procession following the casket up a long, steep path to the gravesite. After the military ceremony was completed, we all walked back downhill to our cars. As we approached our car, I hesitated and turned to my husband, Jack. “I just can’t leave like this,” I told him. He could have replied, “Oh, come on, just get in the car,” or, “The ceremony is over and we have to leave now.” But he didn’t. Instead, he thoughtfully asked, “What do you want to do?”

I was not sure exactly what I wanted to do. I just knew I needed to go back up that hill. The wind was blowing and it was bitter cold, but when I asked if we could return to the grave, my husband took my hand and nodded. We did not worry about the other mourners or the weather as we hiked back up the hill. The cemetery workers were ready to do their job, but they backed away as they saw us return. I did not worry about them either. I put both my hands on the casket and had a private conversation with my precious Uncle Joe. After I said my final good-bye, I motioned to Jack, who was standing a short distance away waiting patiently.

My husband held me close as I said one last prayer before starting down the hill a second time. Now I was able to breathe deeply and the heaviness that had surrounded me earlier had disappeared. Those few moments alone at the casket had given me the private closure that no other part of the formal rituals had provided. If my husband had not supported me in this need, I would have gotten in the car and left the cemetery with agony still enveloping me. My grief would have had to slowly work its way beyond that point before moving on, instead of being released in a quick, more natural manner.

That episode helped me to understand the logic behind the experts’ claims that losses need closure. Statistics show deaths that take place as a result of war or accidents are the most difficult for people to accept. They believe this is due to the lack of closure—not seeing the body, not being allowed to grieve normally. Saying good-bye in a way that is comfortable to each individual is important. Be cautious not to take this away. Instead, support grievers by encouraging them do what they feel is necessary.

Steps toward Closure At one of our support group meetings, a widow shared that she was planning to have her husband’s favorite, beat-up cowboy boots bronzed to use as a doorstop. To me, this sounded like a unique and clever way to keep something special of his around the house. After the meeting was over, one of the other group members did not get up to leave. After some sighing and throat-clearing, she told me she thought the idea of bronzing the cowboy boots was morbid and unhealthy. “You must do something to prevent her from doing this,” she begged me. I sat down and explained that each of us finds comfort in different ways. As long as the task or activity is not harmful to the griever or to anyone else, it is perfectly all right. Allow grievers to decide what will serve as their solace.

Likewise, when my mother died, I had what some may have felt were unusual requests. There were only two items I wanted from my mother’s home following her death. One was her wedding dress. Her mother had made the dress entirely by hand, and I had tried it on frequently in my childhood. The other was an old, rusty watering can. I am a tole painter and I had great plans for that watering can.

My siblings were happy to get rid of the watering can and nobody had any interest in the wedding dress, so I was fortunate. I have since painted the watering can and it sits in a place of honor in my home. It is important not to discount what gives the griever pleasure and solace. You facilitate grief work when you offer your support and help grievers who want to fulfill even seemingly strange or unusual actions or ideas.

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