Everything non medical to do with end of life care, including caring for the carers, caring for people with dementia, grief, bereavement, supporting each other, emotional support and our grievers leaf - an external symbol of grief to alert the environment that you have suffered a loss
In every Bereavement
and Loss workshop that I have facilitated over the years, regardless of the
role of the participant, the question of universal interest seems to be ‘what do we say when we don't know what to say?’
it seems is afraid of saying the wrong thing, and the more tragic the loss the greater
So why is
it so hard for us to know what to say when someone has been bereaved?
possible to say the wrong thing? Does it
matter what we say, as long as we convey by our tone of voice and facial
expression the fact that we care?
In both my
personal and profession experience there are certain phrases and actions that
are more helpful than others, but without any shadow of doubt the worst action
of all is no action at all.
don't know what to say, we may go out of our way to avoid the person who has
been bereaved by literally or figuratively crossing the road to avoid them.
Thus we are in a sense punishing them for something that was out of their
control. We are isolating them at a time when they most need support.
that sustains the person going through a crisis is the knowledge that other
people care. They need to be wrapped in a symbolic blanket of love and support.
So, how can we best comfort those in emotional pain?
‘I don't know what to say’ and ‘I’m so sorry
to hear’ are quite helpful expressions and cover most eventualities; ‘I wish I
knew what to say’ is another variation on the theme.
‘Is there is anything I can do?’ needs to be
backed up with something concrete. For example ‘if there is anything I can do
this is my e mail’ (for a work environment) on a personal level you could say ‘I
am not working on Monday, would you like to meet for coffee?’ Alternatively ‘I’m going to the supermarket
can I do any shopping for you?’ or ‘would you like me to pick up your kids from
school?’ if appropriate.
offers of help are often welcome and much more helpful than an empty ‘if you
need anything don't hesitate to call me’ which often makes the speaker feel
virtuous, but leaves the recipient
unfulfilled and unlikely to take up your offer believing,
possibly correctly, that it is not meant.
bereaved person says ‘I miss him/her so much’ a reasonable response could be
‘what do you miss most about him/her?’ allowing the person the opportunity to
talk about their loss rather than trying to change the subject.
jolly them along with comments such as ‘but you have two lovely children/grandchildren
to take your mind off him/her’ is not helpful.It may make you feel better because you have said something to ‘cheer
them up’ but you will not be helping them at all.
did this happen to me?’ type of unanswerable questions thatmany professional and non professional carers
fear,can be answered with ‘I wish I
knew the answer’ or ‘I wish I knew what to say that would help’
that is not essential to have an endless supply of wise words. The person you
are with needs
to know that you care and that you want to be supportive. It is not necessary
to have a brilliant philosophical response.
importance lies in being there and being able and willing to really listen, giving
that person your whole attention.
To truly give
someone your full attention without interrupting them is a gift, and if you can
listen without giving them your unsolicited advice, your experiences, or what
your neighbour did in similar circumstances, it is a rare gift indeed.
I set up ELManagement as an umbrella organisation for all non medical end of life care. I am very passionate about caring for people who are reaching the end of their life no matter what their age. I am a writer and trainer in end of life care, bereavement and loss and dementia care and I am also an Associate Trainer with a dementia specialist training company and Age UK. I believe in the power that supporting each other brings and the importance of doing whatever we can to give those who need it a quality of end of life.
I co authored End of Life the Essential Guide for Caring which was awarded a Highly Commended by the British Medical Association and the runner up prize for the Public Understanding of Science in 2011. I have also been the studio guest of BBC radio Surrey and Sussex and have co authored two articles that have been published.
A second book about life after bereavement will be published in June 2013