By the time I graduated high school I had been to more funerals than I could count on two hands.
I’ve attended memorials of grandparents, both close and distant family members whose deaths followed long term battles with terminal illness. I’ve sat through wakes of those who were unexpectedly taken from this world far too young.
I’ve watched kitchens fill with casseroles upon casseroles that no one can bear to touch. I’ve been haunted by the hollowed stares of my family and friends.
I’ve experienced first hand the rage, the tears, the depression, the numbness, the laughter, the confusion.
What I’ve learned is no matter how many funerals I have attended, loved ones I have kissed goodbye for the last time or deaths I have been forced to come to terms with, it never gets easier to deal with. It is always difficult to know how to react when someone dies.
This weekend a close friend lost their father, an unimaginable and completely unforeseen tragedy.
This disheartening occurrence put my friends and I in the position to confront the realities associated with death and posed the challenge, how do we deal with this loss?
More importantly, how can we console someone whose world has just crashed down upon them?
What do you say when there is nothing to say?
What do you do when you have absolutely no idea what they are going through?
While everyone knows that one day we all are going to die, we never actually believe it will happen to someone close to us. When it does it can bring us to a state of shock and make us act like a completely opposite person. Keep this in mind when talking to someone who is coping with death.
The most important thing I try to remember is that everyone deals with death differently. A person you are trying to console may react differently to one death than another death; loss is context specific.
They may act that everything is fine and be hurting inside, they may refuse to get out of bed, they may not cry, they may get depressed, keep in mind that recovering from loss is a long and varying process, no one person deals with it the same way. So consoling different people you need to adapt to their circumstances and reactions accordingly.
If you want to be there for a friend, do not just say that you are there for them. Show them you are there for them, it means more. Actually be there, here are a few ways I found help:
- Make a point of showing up to talk: It can be simple, just about the day, the news, verbalizing pleasant memories you each shared with the deceased can shed a more positive light on the depressing situation, anything to take their mind off of the sorrow.
- Cheer them up: Bring over a treat, a book, a magazine, a silly or thoughtful gift, anything that could possibly crack a smile or warm there heart.
- Physically be there: It can be as easy as sitting next to them and holding their hand, hugging them without letting go.
- Write a heartfelt and honest letter: Honesty is key. If you do not know how to deal with the situation let them know that but also let them know that you are going to work your hardest to figure out the best way to deal with it and that you are going to figure out the best way to help them through the situation.
- Say something meaningful: In most cases, it is difficult to find anything to say that will make them feel better because nothing you say will bring a person back or make your friend stop missing them. The comment I have found most honest and effective is showing your support is:
I know that it does not seem possible right now but one day, not tomorrow, not the next day, not next week but one day everything will get better, it will be okay.
- When in doubt relying on the conventional is a safe bet: Sending flowers, letting them know you love them, hugs, baking food, anything that shows you are present.
These are simply a few ideas to think about when confronting someone who needs your help; there are so many variations of these ideas that can be applied to situations so it is hard to create a concrete list.
I spoke to my mom about this issue and all she could tell me was that handling death is hard, no one really knows how to.
One thing a death should teach us is to keep in better touch with those you love because you never know what could happen.
We sometimes take our loved ones for granted and death puts that into perspective, if you love and care about someone tell them right now. And let them know more often.
Hayley is studying journalism, politics and international media at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In between juggling school and various jobs, she makes time to snowboard, travel, write and craft. She surrounds herself with people that motivate and embrace her as she strives to make a difference in anyway she can.
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