Since 2004, I've facilitated grief-bereavement workshops, and held a workshop for the chronically ill I called STARS (Survivors Talking about Real Stories). But mostly the groups have been for people who need to process loss -- a death, a job, their good health, divorce, infertility, etc. Early on I learned the most powerful thing anyone can do is to actively listen. People need to be heard. They aren't there for a 'quick fix' -- most of the reasons they are there aren't fixable. They want to share their story in a safe nonjudgmental environment, with people who have also undergone their own sense of loss, and they want to be heard. For that people must carefully listen.
Too many people are surprisingly uncomfortable around people who are grieving. They don't know what to say; what to do. They are afraid of causing additional pain. Or they want to 'fix' it and help in some concrete way. There's really nothing that can change the circumstances. But that are things you can do - things that convey you care. Don't just write a note to 'call or write if there's anything I can do.' I don't know anyone who has taken someone up on this 'invitation.' For one thing, the onus in now on the sick or grieving -- or whatever -- person to call you up. People seldom want to impose or to feel they are seeking charity. Far better would be to write that you are going to call, and saying that 'when you have some time you want to take care of something they've had to put on hold that they'd like done, so be thinking of how you can help.' And then call and follow through. For example, it's been my fervent dream that I'll get some help in my disheveled yard. It still has fall leaves in it, for gawd's sake, and weeds choking perennials. Here are a few things off the top of my head that can be of tremendous help:
Errands. Going to the grocery. Fixing a meal (and please, deliver in containers you don't want returned, or now on top of all else, the person must now save and deliver back your dishes!). Walking their dog. Returning library books. Picking up dry-cleaning. Taking their kids out for pizza or a movie and giving them time alone. Replace burned out light bulbs or helping around the house for the elderly or infirm, like taking out garbage or bringing in wood and building a fire, sweeping a patio or doing some light chores. If bereaved, help make calls or write letters. I have been known to write obituaries for friends and family (I've written six so far). I will always remember one lovely friend who brought over a technician who gave us manicures and pedicures when I was house-bound for 18 months, and another who just pops by with dinners on occasion.....get the idea? You feel good at being helpful, they feel so relieved and cared for. It's a win-win, as a former boss liked to say (all too often).
I will write more on this subject in future posts, including a few platitudes I've collected over the years of things not to say. Most people don't want to be hurtful, and people realize that, but even though they realize the person may be a bit clueless, things still sting and are remembered...