You will sit here, some quiet summer night, listening to the puffing trains, But you will not be lonely, For these things are a part of me. And my love will go on speaking to you through the chairs, and the tables, and the pictures, As it does now through my voice, And the quick, necessary touch of my hand. — Amy Lowell, American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1926.
A sobering thing about growing older is an increase in the deaths of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Most children, for instance, do not have firsthand experience of death. As we celebrate birthdays, we understand that life presents various challenges and losses not even mildly entertained or in our frame of reference when we are younger.
Recently we attended my husband’s 50th high school reunion in Ft. Lauderdale. Toby graduated from Miami Edison High, and we always enjoy reunions hosted by the Miami Edison “Over The Hill Gang.” We returned home to the reality of the deaths that occurred in the week we were away—two personal friends and two clients.
The resulting fall out just begged for a column with reminders of how to handle grief and how to help a person who is grieving. I recently found a wonderful website, www.beyondindigo.com. There are blogs, chats, ideas for home funerals, ideas for green funerals, tips for grieving over the death of a pet and all kinds of consoling and helpful information. The site is moderated by Karin Baltzell, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Beyond Indigo companies. She is an editor, author and on-line marketing coach and instructor.
Last year, Baltzell blogged about what to do if you are helping or assisting a friend or family member who is grieving. When the friend clearly needs help from you, but is not verbalizing her needs, it is often a good time to ask questions. “Tell me about the death: when did it happen? Who was there?” People, says Baltzell, want to talk about their loss, but sometimes you need to coax them. Talking makes the loss more real for them in their own minds.
Also, question your friend about whether they have been eating, when was the last time they ate and what did they eat. Most often, people who are grieving do not eat or, if they do, it is only sugary foods. Sometimes the thought of food just makes them feel sick. Suggest to your friend that they drink Ensure, Boost or even a glass of milk if they cannot get food down.
“Have you been drinking water?” can be a helpful question. Crying takes moisture out of the body. Drinking water puts it back in. Simple sounding, but challenging to do suggests Baltzell. Grieving people tend to rely on soft drinks and coffee. Both dehydrate the body.
“Have you been able to sleep more than five hours a night? If not, is it time to think about a non-addictive sleep aid?” Grieving is hard work and a grieving body needs the energy to get through the process.
Asking our friends if they have been able to cry in front of others is an important question, says Baltzell. People tend to have a hard time with this, especially the elderly. The common response is “No-Because I don’t want to upset others, because I don’t want to seem that vulnerable, because if I start crying I will never stop.”
Well, the news is that we will not make the lives of other mourners more miserable by crying in front of them. In fact, when we cry it has the effect of giving them permission to cry. Crying releases chemicals into our system that help us feel better. It is healthy to cry. Eventually, the griever will stop crying as often.
It is often helpful to assist grieving friends to remember the good times. When Kelly Baltzell was helping her mother-in-law grieve a brother’s loss, Baltzell made flash cards. She wrote down all the good things currently in her mother-in-law’s life lately plus other good things and memories of the lost brother, put holes in the cards and put them on a key ring. When her mother in law was feeling blue, she could pull them out and read one or as many as she wanted. Another suggestion is to put pictures of happy times in a photo album. Then the grieving person can thumb through the book when they are down.
Summarizing this advice, the blog ends: “People will be thankful you asked questions of them. Don’t be afraid. People know that you care then, and that you want to help them. Questions structure the conversation and help the grieving people focus on something other than the excruciating pain they are feeling. Give it a try.”
Check out www.beyondfunerals.com/blog and the website mentioned above www.beyondindigo.com. If you are grieving yourself or have a friend who is grieving, you will find these sites extremely helpful.
Thank you for reading. Stay well. See you next week.