By Bob VandePol, MSW
The following suggestions have proven helpful:
1. Listening is the most effective communication tool.
There is tremendous power in calm, strong presence. There are no magic words to erase the pain. Anxious efforts to say them can be annoying or hurtful.
2. Acknowledge the death.
Sometimes we avoid the powerful presence of death because of our own discomfort. This actually gives it greater destructive power. Use the deceased person’s name and the word death.
3. Remember, it’s about them.
It’s OK for you to express your feelings, and it can actually provide comfort for others who see you experience sympathy and compassion. But remember that this is about them; not you.
4. Remind them to practice self-care.
Sometimes addressing self-care after a death feels disrespectful or irreverent. Grieving people may need “permission” to honor the person who died by pursuing self-care as well as life-giving activities that commemorate what the deceased valued and was known for.
5. Acknowledge that new grief sometimes opens up old wounds.
Be alert to the fact that this death likely triggers grief reactions to previous losses. There are more issues in the room than readily apparent. Simply acknowledging this fact is helpful.
6. Proceed sensitively.
People mourn in different ways. Some express feelings openly and some wish to return to tasks quickly. Some may wish to be alone.
7. Help them find additional support.
When possible, connect them with other resources such as family, friends, church and professionals.
8. Be practical in your help.
Think proactively and take tasks off their plate. You could offer to mow a neighbor’s lawn or pick up some needed items from the grocery store when you go.
9. Tap the person’s spiritual resources.
Pray when it is welcomed. Sometimes people feel intruded upon when forced to pray when not ready. Rarely, however, will anyone resist offers to pray for them privately.
Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director the Pine Rest Employee, School and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.