Whenever you think of it, try to remember those people you know who are hurting because of the loss of a loved one. People who have been integral parts of our lives at one point can easily be forgotten, as we keep busy and they drop away from our everyday awareness. But, illness, bereavement, and financial difficulties can cause the hurting people whom we have known well, to withdraw from their normal patterns of behavior built up over their lifetime of social activity. Often, those who suffer loss or bereavement will need us—those who are not directly affected by the loss or pain—to seek them out, in order to try to lift their spirits, encourage them, and to provide physical and emotional support.
Frequently, a hurting person wants to talk about their health problems or bereavement in more detail than their listeners want to hear. The sufferer does not purposely want to overwhelm the hearer with problems and most likely, they really don’t expect anyone to solve or fix things, but rather, they want the hearers to listen and understand their difficult situation and their pain. Offering solutions might be useful occasionally, but probably, the person doesn’t need a continuous flow of problem-solving advice. More helpfully, would be listening and remembering the details that they tell you. Being a good friend might mean following-up a visit or call with a question such as, “You said you were struggling with [X-health issue] the last time we talked; how is that coming?” or “I saw on the news that a new study suggested X-medication for that problem we were talking about. Have you heard about that new treatment?” and letting them talk about it without you trying to convince them what to do. Remembering some of the details that a person has shared with you when they are suffering a chronic problem will help that person know that you care about them. Remembering what they share with you will help them feel less alone and keep them from being isolated in with their problems. If you don’t listen to people, you are building a wall between yourself and your friend that only emphasizes the person’s isolation, rather than conveying your empathy.
A bereaved person will want to share memories of their loved one who has passed on or to talk about the loneliness they feel. They miss that lost loved one and want to talk about him or her and their experiences together. This might also be true in cases of break-up or divorce.
Too often, the listener isn’t really listening. When you feel like you’ve already heard these stories “too many times” already, the danger is to tune-out the details you are being told. Doing this, tunes out the person, as well. The person will know that you have tuned them out and will not feel like you care about them. Showing real compassion and kindness can be as simple as using eye contact; repeating or clarifying details by asking caring questions (“What year was that again?” rather then challenging questions, like, “I thought you said, last year; which do you mean?”); praying for the person’s specific needs or illness and telling them you are doing it; asking them about specific details that have been mentioned in previous conversations; sending a card with a note or flowers; emailing or texting them the link to a comforting song you like on YouTube; inviting the person along to a friendly gathering or public event and providing them with a ride or ticket; taking them with you to church or shopping. Just listening to a person who is processing through their feelings will probably help that person more quickly to find their way through their state of grief than almost anything.
And…don’t judge people, if and when they vent their feelings. It is a process to work through, not a formula to conform to. Showing true concern and attention to the details of loss will help a person feel less lonely and more like they still are valued as a person. Remembering people who suffer loss is truly a kindness.