When Someone is Grieving

Jan Fowler

is author of the best-selling book, “Hot Chocolate for Seniors”(winner of national & international awards); winner of Gold Halo Award from the So. California Motion Picture Council for Outstanding Literary Achievement; winner of First Place Excellence in Journalism Award (SPJ –Southern CA); Town & Gown “Phenomenal Woman” Award; former television host & KSPA radio host of “Senior Living at its Best with Jan Fowler”; speaker, contributing author for “Savvy Women Revving Up for Success”; founder of Starburst Inspirations, Inc. 501(c) (3) nonprofit which supports Redlands Drug Court. www.janfowler.com. Jan welcomes feedback and comments about her columns and invites you to leave her a message on her website.

When Someone is Grieving

I am occasionally reminded of a very touching parable once shared by Reverend Robert A. Schuller, as told to him by Albert Schweitzer. It is a poignant tale about a flock of geese who were gathered on a pond.

The time had come for the geese to fly away and so they lifted into the air, circled the pond, and waited for their last member to join them before leaving. But one goose was unable to fly because his wing feathers had been cruelly clipped, and he was not able to join them in flight.

So the flock landed back down and patiently waited.

Several days went by, and again the flock repeated the routine and attempted to depart.  But enough time had not passed for the injured goose’s feathers to grow back so he still could not fly.  Once more, the flock settled down to wait until he was ready.

Months passed until the day finally arrived when the goose with the clipped wings could fly again, and they all flew away together.

Apparently humans are not the only ones to recognize that healing is an ebb and flow process, requiring time and patience.

This year more than ever before, people whom I either knew or was connected to in some way died, which caused me to ponder a very sensitive question.    What do we say or do to comfort family and friends when someone they loved has just died?

For answers, I turned to the people with firsthand experience of having lost a husband, wife, son, daughter, or close companion–all of whom willingly shared what they felt was especially meaningful to them during the various stages of their grief in hopes that my readers might profit.

The question I posed to each was, “What was it that others said or did which helped you the most?”  Their comments helped deepen my own understanding of grief.

All agreed that when expressing sympathy following a service, it really doesn’t matter if you find yourself at a loss for words because chances are that the bereaved won’t remember your words anyway.  Even a hug or handshake are meaningful.  The most important thing for them is knowing that you cared enough to come.

Other suggestions were:  Don’t hold back from talking about the deceased or saying his name in the following weeks or months just because he died.  Instead, talk openly and share your memories freely because it comforts family to know that their loved one is remembered by others and not forgotten.

Sit with those in mourning if they wish to share photo albums or favorite memories so they know that their loved one is remembered by others and not forgotten.

And by all means, keep those cards, phone calls, and invitations coming!  The concern of others promotes healing.  Do not avoid the person suffering the loss.  Instead go out of your way to talk to them.  I was told that if you pull away, it can be the biggest hurt of all.

One bereft person stressed the importance of inviting the bereaved out for an occasional cup of coffee, movie, or even a family gathering.  Whenever possible, include them in a trip.  This is especially meaningful once the initial flood of outpouring of sympathy has died down.

Since grief recovery is such a private and personal journey with no clear timetable, I learned that the worst things to say are, “Time to put it behind you and move on with your life.”

True friends wait patiently and compassionately until the day finally arrives when feathers have grown back naturally and one can fly again.

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