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Helping Others Cope With Grief

by Sharon Strouse

Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University


Teen Depression  -  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Counseling & Therapy  -  Self-Help & Support Groups


It's part of life.  Someone special died today.  Someone's father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter.  A family, a lifetime of memories and a lot of pain are left behind.  And, for the survivors, the pain is just beginning.  Working through that pain and sadness is often a long and grueling process called mourning.




Almost everyone worries about what to say to the survivors.  You don't want to hurt their feelings or upset them.  But more important than knowing what to say is knowing how to listen.  You cannot take away the pain that friends or co-workers are suffering from the loss of a loved one, but you can listen to their stories.  Storytelling is a very common and effective way for the grieving person to keep the memory of a loved one alive.  The biggest fear for someone in mourning is that those around them will forget the loved one now that they are gone.


In a study of 125 grieving persons in Tampa, psychologist Catherine M. Sanders asked participants what was most important in helping them through their grief.  They overwhelmingly answered, "friends, family, neighbors -- anyone who would take the time to listen," Sanders reports.


Thus, listening is probably the single most important thing you can do for someone who is grieving This means active listening, or listening to point that you are really trying to feel what that person is feeling.


It is helpful to allow the survivors to "tell the story" about how their loved one died.  At first, they will recount minute details, but with each retelling, the story typically gets shorter.  Each time they tell it, it becomes part of acknowledging and accepting the reality of the death.


If the subject of death makes you uncomfortable, understand that most people feel the same way.  But realize that there is a real need for the survivor to talk.  Don't worry about being conversational.  It is simply more important to listen.


Let those who are grieving know that you are thinking of them and of the loved one that has passed awayLet them know that you are praying for them and their families A card can let someone know you are thinking of him or her.  A visit or a phone call to listen would even be a better idea.


Some people listen best over a plate of cookies, a glass of tea or milk, and some time set aside to concentrate one-on-one with the person who is grieving.  Whatever your style, by simply listening, we can help others cope with their grief.


Teens who are having serious problems with grief and loss may show one or more of these signs:

These warning signs indicate that professional help may be needed.  Child and adolescent therapists can help youth accept the death and assist the survivors in helping through the mourning process.  Grief support groups provide fellowship and are an excellent way to find comfort, help, and guidance.



Give sorrow words;

the grief that does not speak

whispers the o'er-fraught heart

and bids it break.

-- William Shakespeare



The Overlapping Stages of Grief

  • Shock and denial.  You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain.  Feelings of disbelief are at their highest.  Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once.

  • Anger, pain, remorse.  You may be angry at God, the doctor, the ísystemí, even the person who died. Because this is the time of frustration, blame, self-blame, and guilt, you will be most tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs, isolate, or act out.  Making decisions is difficult because all your energy is in the emotions rather than in problem solving.

  • Depression. loneliness, detachment.  You feel numb and may withdraw from friends and family, although angry feelings will persist.  Things that used to bring you joy may now seem purposeless.

  • Bargaining and dialogue.  You bargain or try to strike a deal with God, yourself, or others to make the loss and/or the pain go away.  You start looking for answers to "why is this happening" or "why did this happen."

  • Acceptance.  This is when the anger, sadness, and mourning have tapered off.  You simply begin accepting the reality of your loss.  You may feel guilty for feeling good, but you need to allow yourself to appreciate the fact that you are healing.


Read All The Books


Helping Teens Cope with Death

Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families



Awakening from Grief:  Finding the Way Back to Joy

by John E. Welshons and Wayne Dyer


Helping Resources


Bereaved Parents ~ Self-help group that offers support, understanding, compassion and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings struggling to rebuild their lives after the death of their children, grandchildren or siblings.


Compassionate Friends ~ Self-help support organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings.


Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families ~ Support and training for individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief.


GriefShare ~ Non-denominational Christian grief recovery support groups located throughout the United States and Canada.


GROWW -- Grief Recovery Online ~ Message boards, resource listings and secure chat rooms hosted by the most loving people on the internet for all who are grieving.


Jenna Druck Foundation ~ Assists families after the death of a child and helps develop critical skills in young women leaders.


Mothers of Murdered Sons/Daughters ~ M.O.M.S is a place for mothers to communicate with each other, provide some information about the grief process and provide information links to helpful sites.


National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children ~ POMC helps survivors deal with their acute grief, and also with the criminal justice system.


TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) ~ Services to all those who have lost a loved one while serving in the Armed Forces, including national military survivor peer support network, grief counseling referral, case worker assistance, and crisis information.



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