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What to Do (and What Not to Do) When a Friend, Co-Worker, or Relative Suffers a Loss
With 101 quick and concrete suggestions you can use immediately, 101 Ways You Can Help offers practical information on the dos and don'ts of handling grief and loss. You'll find the universal basics of helping, as well as specific tools for how to offer support based on your relationship to ...
What to Do (and What Not to Do) When a Friend, Co-Worker, or Relative Suffers a Loss
With 101 quick and concrete suggestions you can use immediately, 101 Ways You Can Help offers practical information on the dos and don'ts of handling grief and loss. You'll find the universal basics of helping, as well as specific tools for how to offer support based on your relationship to the person who is grieving, from a boss to a backyard neighbor:
There are an estimated eight million newly bereaved people in the United States each year. Through this book, Liz Aleshire, who experienced personally and professionally what helps and what hurts, encourages you to reach out and gives you suggestions on how to ease the delicate situations surrounding bereavement.
Excerpt from the Introduction
So Why Would You Listen to Me?
I needed this book. I really, really needed this book about fifteen years ago when my only child Nathan died of cancer at age sixteen. But it wasn't out there. I read a ton of books about grief and bereavement and what I should do to help myself. But there was nothing I could give friends, family members, organizations I belonged to, the people I worked with, or the members at my church on how they could help me. It was painfully evident, except for a couple of courageous, persistent friends, that no one knew how to help me.
See, we don't talk about death. No one's interested in talking about death. Most of all me! According to D. Brookes Cowan, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Vermont, end-of-life care specialist, and part of the team that produced the critically acclaimed 2004 documentary Pioneers of Hospice: Changing the Face of Dying, death has replaced sex as the number one taboo topic of conversation in America. That is in direct contradiction to the idea that the more people we share our sorrow with—the number quoted is usually one hundred—the more healing occurs. In the past fifteen years, I've told maybe twenty people the agonizing story of my son's death. I've got eighty to go. The problem is finding those additional eighty people willing to listen and talk about death in general and my bereavement in particular.
If we don't talk about it, how will we ever learn how to be one of the one hundred who help others when death occurs? Because I knew my loss wasn't the first death people had encountered, I was confused as to why they didn't know how to help me even though they wanted to.
Over the past fifteen years, we've suffered through numerous school shootings, mass murders, mine collapses, devastating losses from tsunamis, and war. After September 11, 2001, I was sure someone would see the need for this book and that quickly we'd have the definitive work on how anyone could help the bereaved. I waited in vain. The book never came out.
As a writer, the answer became clear. I'd have to write it myself. I was reluctant. While I, unfortunately, could speak with the voice of authority (after all, I've lived it—been there, done that, burned the T-shirt), I struggled with how to write it. As my writer friends told me I should write a book about my experience, all I thought was, Who the hell would read a depressing book like that?
Well, I'm described as having quite the sense of humor. So I outlined and pitched the book as written in a light, humorous, and sometimes irreverent tone. A humorous book about death? Could I do that? Any doubts I had about my ability to write this book with that voice vanished as soon as I typed in Tip #1, the first way to help the bereaved. It was a challenge, but it was fun and relatively easy after that. I had, after all, been writing this book in my head for fifteen years!
While this book is 90 percent things people should do to help the bereaved (the dos), there are some things that should be strictly avoided (the don'ts.) They've happened to me, and they've happened to every bereaved person I've met. I managed to keep the don'ts light, too, I hasten to add, but all of these don'ts are real.
Yep, I really needed this book. Now I have it. And so do you. It's a reference work you can keep on the shelf for years, to help you and the people close to you weather whatever life or, rather, death, throws at you. It even includes an appendix that provides the manner of dress, particular customs, and a kind of code of conduct at funerals for nine different religious groups and nonreligious ones as well, from the Baha'i to the Unitarian Universalist. So if you are on your way out the door now to go to a viewing or funeral and want to know if you are dressed correctly, then go ahead and flip immediately to the appendix. Otherwise, here is how to read this book.
Chapter 1 lists eleven things everyone should know and do to help the bereaved. Read that.
Chapter 2 lists eleven things everyone should absolutely not say to the bereaved. I call them the Atrocious Eleven. Read that chapter—especially if you are on your way out the door to a viewing or funeral. Please.
Chapter 3 has ten tips for someone you know just a little, like someone who belongs to your garden club or the gym where you work out. So that chapter is useful for everyone. Read it.
Chapter 4 has thirteen tips to help you support the bereaved who is your co-worker or employee.
Chapter 5 has twenty-one tips for if the bereaved is your neighbor, and chapter 6 has thirty-five tips for if the bereaved is your best friend or family member.
Introduction: So Why Should You Listen to Me?
CHAPTER ONE: The Basic Dos
#1. Accept that you can't fi x it, and stop trying
#2. Go to the viewing or wake
#3. Just say, "I'm sorry for your loss"
#4. Tell an anecdote
#5. Let her cry
#6. Go ahead and give him a hug!
#7. Dress appropriately
#8. Go to the funeral
#9. When it's OK to bring children
#10. When it's not OK to bring children
#11. When you can't go to the funeral
CHAPTER TWO: The Basic Don'ts
#12. Don't say, "She's in a better place"
#13. Don't say, "At least he went quickly"
#14. Don't say, "At least her suffering is over"
#15. Don't say, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger"
#16. Don't say, "I knew someone who…"
#17. Don't say, "He must have died to teach us something"
#18. Don't say, "He (or She, It, or They) must have needed her"
#19. Don't say, "You should be happy for how long you did have him"
#20. Don't say, "C'mon, pal, men don't cry"
#21. Don't say, "God (or Buddha, Mother Nature, Allah, the Universe, or the Great Pumpkin) never gives us more than we can handle"
#22. Don't say, "You need to get on with your life"
CHAPTER THREE: When the Bereaved Is a Friend Who Shares a Common Interest
#23. Be proactive!
#24. Tuck a book of stamps in with that sympathy card
#25. Plan a playdate
#26. Visit the bereaved at home
#27. Educate the people in your club or organization about grief
#28. Arrange to be an escort to your next meeting or event
#29. Offer to do all the work to hold a meeting of your group at his home
#30. Be careful what you offer—the septic tank might be full!
#31. Read that body language
#32. Shut up and listen
CHAPTER FOUR: When the Bereaved Is Your Co-worker
#33. Offer to be the workplace newscaster
#34. Don't push her to come back to work too soon
#35. Offer to take on a task
#36. Don't dump those tasks on her desk on her first day back at work
#37. Donate a vacation day
#38. Take up a collection at the office
#39. Set up the trust fund the right way
#40. Managers, inform and support your employee regarding the company's leave policy
#41. Managers, educate your staff about grief and bereavement
#42. Work to change the Family Medical Leave Act to include the bereaved
#43. Don't dump on the boss or the company for policies currently in place
#44. She's not different; she's just sad
#45. By gosh, don't gush!
CHAPTER FIVE: When the Bereaved Is Your Neighbor
#46. Understand the effects of our culture on the bereaved's ability to grieve
#47. Give him the gift of time
#48. Allow her to grieve her way
#49. Make breakfast for the morning of the funeral
#50. Foods, herbs, and other natural remedies that help
#51. Offer to watch the house during the funeral
#52. Offer to care for infants during the funeral
#53. Say yes when asked to be a pallbearer
#54. Speak up fi rst about the deceased at the funeral
#55. Visit once a week
#56. While you're there, check things out
#57. Roll up your sleeves, and get to work on outdoor home maintenance
#58. Roll up your sleeves, and get to work on inside home maintenance
#59. Offer to run an errand
#60. Be a little pushy
#61. Be pushier
#62. Have his children over to your house
#63. Take them along!
#64. Help out with holidays and events
#65. Shut up and listen to children
#66. Recommend a children's grief support program
CHAPTER SIX: When the Bereaved Is Your Best Friend or a Member of Your Family
#67. Smarten up! Learn about the process of grief
#68. Give her permission to grieve
#69. Validate his feelings
#70. Validate grief
#71. Validate relief
#72. Spend time with her in her home
#73. Offer to help with funeral arrangements
#74. Do the eulogy
#75. Create a testimonial
#76. Create a website
#77. Know when to hold 'em, and know when to hug 'em
#78. Help with the pets
#79. Offer to help with the paperwork
#80. Make sure she is as financially stable as possible
#81. Help go through the deceased's clothing and belongings
#82. Keep an eye on her health and safety—and the kids' too
#83. Be very pushy!
#84. Remember your favorite fun thing, and do it again!
#85. Buy a subtle gift
#86. Buy an unsubtle gift
#87. Remember, it's not only the person who's gone
#88. Buy her a journal
#89. Keep a journal for him
#90. Arrange to go to a conference on grieving
#91. Suggest a support group
#92. Suggest a grief counselor
#93. Agree with the bereaved
#94. Call, call, call
#95. Make him feel needed
#96. Don't forget the personal holidays
#97. Remember roles in holiday traditions and family gatherings
#98. Take care of yourself
#99. Help with the hard decisions
#100. Don't assume the spouse will be able to help
#101. One more time—shut up and listen!
Appendix: Attending Funeral and Memorial Services
About the Author