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Techniques Used to Assist the Bereaved

Techniques Used to Assist the Bereaved

It is important to educate bereaved persons that the single most important thing they can do for themselves during their period of mourning is to allow themselves to completely grieve in their own way. There is no right way or right amount of time. The important thing is that they honestly look at what they are feeling, be it anger, sadness, guilt, etc., and that they share their thoughts and feelings with someone they trust – a friend, family member, clergy, therapist, etc.

There are many specific questions you can ask and techniques you can employ in assisting the bereaved with their grief process.

  • You can create a helping environment by finding a quiet, private place to talk and by projecting warmth, interest and respect.
  • When you speak of the deceased, use the past tense, use the deceased’s name, and use words such as death, died, dead.
  • You can begin your first encounter with the bereaved by asking him/her to tell you about the death – what happened that day or night.
  • Ask him/her about any funeral or memorial services.
  • Ask him/her what has been happening since the death. How have things been with family/friends? Does he/she seem able to talk openly about the deceased?
  • The following questions may encourage a person to reflect on his/her grief reaction:

Some people have trouble eating or sleeping after they have lost someone they love. Are you eating OK

Are you getting out of the house and engaging in any former activities or hobbies?

Is there anything bothering you in particular these days?

  • Ask about other difficult times in his/her life. Were these recent or in the past? How someone has responded to past losses can tell a great deal about how they are likely to adjust to the current loss.
  • Ask what coping skills he/she utilized in past crises; encourage him/her to utilize those same resources at this time.
  • Help them acknowledge their past accomplishments as a way to reestablish self esteem.
  • Affirm their ability to survive their current loss.
  • Ask them about their relationship with the deceased.
  • Help them examine their special qualities and talents that endeared them to the deceased.
  • Most grief experts warn against making a drastic change too soon after the death of a loved one (examples include moving to a new home, getting into a new relationship). These premature changes are often viewed as an attempt to “run away” from the pain of grief.
  • Remind the survivor that it is normal to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of his/her feelings.
  • Help him/her identify feelings of loss and feel pain. Acknowledge that pain is a part of the grief experience, but reassure him/her the pain will not always be so intense.
  • Give him/her permission to cry.
  • Give him/her permission to feel relieved if he/she does.
  • Acknowledge that setbacks do happen and not to panic. Explain that it may feel like an emotional roller coaster at times, but that these are merely remnants of grief and not a signal that he/she is starting over again.
  • Grief is an exhausting process physically and emotionally, so it is important to encourage the bereaved to take extra care of themselves by eating balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol and other mind-altering drugs, as they can hinder the grief process.
  • Suggest that they be patient not only with themselves, but with others who may not understand what they are feeling.
  • Remind them to have realistic expectations about how quickly they will heal from the pain of grief.
  • Encourage them to take one day at a time. At times, it might be easier to break the day into manageable increments.
  • Suggest that they start slowly to return to their normal routine by doing small customary chores such as shopping.
  • One grief therapist suggests that the bereaved set goals for themselves for six months at a time, picking two or three realistic goals and establishing a deadline to accomplish them. Setting goals provides security and a renewed control over one’s life.
  • Doing small things for other people can also be helpful to someone who is grieving in that it takes attention off the bereaved and their pain for awhile.
  • Reassure them that it is also OK to set limits with people and to say no.
  • Validate the survivor as they develop new skills and take on new roles.
  • Affirm their right to feel joy and hope and to eventually have another relationship, without viewing these as being disloyal to the deceased.

Here are some specific aids you can utilize with the bereaved:

  • Some bereaved feel the need, especially right after the death, to find out everything they can about the illness and/or circumstance of their loved one’s death, and sometimes they want to review the medical records. This is normal and especially typical in a sudden death.
  • Encourage the use of symbols and “transitional objects” such as photos, audio or video tapes, articles of clothing or jewelry, or a collection that was special to the deceased.
  • Suggest writing a letter to the deceased or to God expressing his/her thoughts or feelings.
  • Suggest keeping a journal of the grief experience, or special thoughts, poems and remembrances.
  • Reading about grief often helps to normalize their grief experience. Bookstores, libraries, hospices and the Internet all have excellent grief resources.
  • Family members could put together a memory book that includes stories about family events, photos, poems, drawings, etc. They could also make a memory box, in which some special items are kept that can be shared with others or kept as a keepsake.
  • Suggest the use of art work to express their grief feelings.
  • One grief therapist suggests that the bereaved person play out in his/her mind the “unfinished business” from the relationship with the deceased and try to come to a resolution. It is sometimes helpful to focus on what the survivor was able to do for the deceased instead of what they should have done.
  • The “empty chair” technique, where the bereaved person imagines the deceased and is encouraged to express whatever they need to say is another effective method for “unfinished business.”
  • Role-play can be helpful when the bereaved face situations that are feared or that they feel awkward about – like starting a new relationship. Role play can build stronger coping skills.