Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Many Ways to Help a Person Dealing With Grief

Are you a source of comfort to a grieving person?

My older brother died suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday, February 26, 2021. My brother was not supposed to die yet. Nor was a policeman with a gun supposed to be delivering the news to me that my beloved brother was deceased. Yep, that is exactly what the policeman said to me. He asked me when I had last spoken to my brother and then delivered the gut-wrenching news in the coldest and most removed way. He simply said, "Well, your brother is deceased," after he felt that I had properly identified myself. How, I asked myself, can this stranger be talking to me about my brother's death? Shouldn't this sort of information be delivered by someone who at least faked a little bit of heart? The image of these three or four moments with this virtual stranger breaking my heart will stay with me for years to come. After all, he entered my life and crushed my heart. His intentions are irrelevant.

I really don't remember exactly what ensued during the next several hours. I do remember that in my usual way, I started making a list of what I needed to take care of. You see, my brother and I are both list people. We both get and got (the tenses are confusing) satisfaction when we crossed to-do items off our lists. I instinctually knew which friends and relatives to reach out to. I was so right. They cried with me, listened to me, and left long enough pauses for me to speak. They had the bandwidth and heart to hear me out. They allowed me the space I needed. Every single message, card, meal, and thoughtful gift made a big difference.

You see, loneliness is the predominant feeling. I was sad, mad, and hurt but loneliness set in quickly. After all, no one will miss my brother the way I will. No one knows how much fun we had playing together as kids. No one knows the shortcuts that we were able to use when we spoke. If you are lucky enough to have a sibling who you are close to then you will understand exactly what I am talking about. If you have a difficult relationship with a sibling, I am truly sorry. A close relationship with a brother or sister is a gift and a treasure.

I would also like to tell you what was not helpful. There were people who immediately started asking for details despite my obvious need to slow down the rate and pace of the conversation. There were others who allowed me to speak for a few seconds and grabbed an opportunity to talk about themselves. This was not helpful, and it was hurtful and rude. This was and is not an opportunity to talk about yourself. You stole the conversation and I did not have the energy to ask you to stop talking.

If you really want to help a grieving person, give them the opportunity to cry, speak, and control the rate and pace of the exchange. Try to be patient. And, don't forget them after you have sent flowers. Their grief doesn't end after you've had flowers delivered. Check in and do not check out. They are not simply an item on your list to be crossed out.

More from Psychology Today
4 Min Read
I believe that most current approaches to anxiety fall short because they are predicated on the medical model, which views anxiety as an illness.

More from Barbara Greenberg Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today