* Offer practical ways you can help. Fix a meal, take a small child out to give the family a break, help with scheduling appointments, offer a ride, etc. The person may not know what they need and they won't call and ask so you will need to offer.
* Don't be afraid to say their loved one's name. It is so important that they are included and remembered. You are not reminding them of anything they aren't already thinking about. Now they know someone else is remembering them too.
* Refrain from asking any details about the death itself. Often times, when it is not clear, outsiders out of curiosity will push for information due to their own need for closure but this is at the expense of the direct family members. If the family wants to share this information, they will. If not, take the role of a compassionate supporter only.
* Be sure to remember the deceased person's birthday and death day. Holidays are important too. It doesn't take much - a simple text or card to say you are thinking of them goes a very long way.
* Respect the person's need for privacy. Early in grief, they may request no visitors and may not return calls. They may cancel plans last minute or only want to be alone. Do not force it or judge. Simply tell them you will be there when they are ready to talk or visit.
* Be mindful of condolences. While these are well-intended and meant out of care and love, the wrong words can leave a harmful and lasting effect for years to come. "It was God's will", "cherish the memories" and "they are out of pain" does not help. Instead, consider telling the griever you are there for them or share a simple memory of their loved one in a card.
* Make a small donation or volunteer hours in the person's name to a cause they felt passionate about.
* Remember that everyone deals with grief differently. A quiet and withdrawn family member may be coping fine while another seemingly talkative and outgoing member may be really struggling. Don't place judgment if your timeframe or way isn't the same. Acceptance will promote healing.
Traumatic grief is described as the unique and tragic experience of losing another in a sudden, unexpected or unnatural way. Some of these events include suicide, homicide and accidents such as from an automobile, drug overdose or drowning. Other times the traumatic loss occurs due to an unknown medical issue or when a person goes missing with no explanation or outcome. Every child loss under any circumstance is untimely and considered a traumatic loss. Furthermore, witnessing a death, being blamed for such or suffering harm themselves in the event also adds another level of complexity. Although every loss can be difficult and painful, traumatic grief includes not only grief over the losing the person but also the devastating effects of the traumatic event itself. This can result in a stress response to trauma and yet another layer to the already difficult process of grief.
Some of the grief symptoms and stress responses experienced during a traumatic loss include: intrusive preoccupation with the deceased, yearning and pining, searching for the deceased, developing a shattered new worldview of mistrust and insecurity or a feeling as if part of one's self has died with their loved one. Significant health problems can arise due to intense level of grief. It is not uncommon for the symptoms to develop into post traumatic stress (PTS).
It is also important to note the effects of disenfranchised losses, which refers to any grief that goes unacknowledged or invalidated by society. These losses are often minimized and not understood by others which makes it particularly difficult to grieve and in a sense, further traumatizing the individual left behind. There are unfortunately numerous types of these losses that typically go unrecognized. Some primary ones include the following:
1. The mechanism of the death is stigmatized such as in a suicide or homicide.
2. Miscarriages and stillbirths.
3. Ones in which the relationship is stigmatized such as an ex-partner, same-sex partner, those incarcerated or in some way inadvertently present in another's death.
4. The death of a sibling of any age is often overlooked due to the focus being on the parent who lost a child.
5. The way someone is grieving is stigmatized such as either extreme grief responses or a complete absence of any outward grief.
6. Grief over those with severe mental illness, dementia or a cognitive disability.
Within families the grief response will vary. There is no right or wrong way to feel, no timeline or expected path despite what society may say. North Valley Center for Hope believes in meeting you where you are with both compassion, deep listening and safety to feel whatever you need to.