Category Archives: Self Help

How To Cope With Death – Insight For The Supporter And The Survivor

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In lieu of a recent loss of a loved one to someone very dear to me, and from my own experience having lost my father over the summer, I began thinking about what a strange anomaly death is, for the survivors of the lost one, and for the supporters of those who want to be there for the survivors.

As people’s hearts ache for the loss of someone dear, or for the broken hearts of ones they love who lost someone dear to them, we struggle trying to figure out ways we can help. Our intentions are sincere when we say, “Let us know if you need anything,” but we don’t always know exactly how to follow through with that. After all, death is a very delicate matter.

I’d like to offer some of my own advice (from personal experience and through observation) for the supporters, regarding how to help survivors as they’re dealing with the loss of a loved one. Hopefully this will provide a guiding light for those that want to help another who lost someone, but just don’t know how to go about dealing with a delicate situation.

  1. “Let me know if you need anything.” This is the most sincere of intentions and words, but as we lose a loved one, we often lose our own sense of direction or self for a while. We become stricken with grief and sadness. We are wrought with conflicting emotions and thoughts. We become overwhelmed with all the busy work following a death, like funeral planning, burial or cremation, notifying friends and family, writing an obituary, costs of funeral services, closing out their bank accounts, shutting off their bills, wrapping up any loose ends they had, going over wills and legal paperwork, going through their personal belongings, dividing and donating their belongings, figuring out how to manage their large assets, closing/forwarding their mail, and figuring out how to pick up the pieces now that they’re gone. All while we, being the survivor, are probably in one of the worst mental and emotional states we could be in. During this time, it might possibly be the worst time for us to know what we want or need, or to have the energy or mental capacity to delegate tasks or ask for help where we need it. Because of this, I suggest to you – being the supporter – if you did sincerely mean “let me know if you need anything,” spare the person the trouble of more thinking, and find a way *you* would like to help. Take the initiative to get creative or be supportive, because we more than likely aren’t in a good spot to reach out or know what it is we even need. But just because we don’t ask for anything does not necessarily mean we don’t need anything. So if you want to offer support, don’t wait for the survivor to come to you, rather, go to them.

  1. Figure out what it is that could help your survivor and what would also make you feel like you’ve helped them. Does the deceased have a lot of belongings? Tell your survivor you’ll be there to help them sort or move any heavy furniture they need, and actually show up to do so. It’s classic, but send them a card or some flowers. It is really nice to know, as the survivor of a lost loved one, that you’re thought of, and have life around you, in a time of loss. Make your survivor food. We (survivor) get so busy and caught up in the loss and what we have to do, we even forget to eat, don’t have time, or don’t care to cook. Make meals, and bring them to your survivor. They will greatly appreciate it and most absolutely need it. Find something sentimental or personal, and present it to them. Whether it’s photos of their lost one, an item that reminded you of their lost one, something you were given when you lost someone…. A special something really does feel special.

  2. Be there for your survivor physically and verbally. It’s so easy to Facebook your condolences and move on. But sometimes it’s hard to realize, this is someone’s current situation they’re really dealing with in their life. If you’re not very close to the person, it’s totally fine to keep condolences more informal. But if you are a good friend or family member, give your survivor a call. Better yet, show up for them in person. Sometimes we could really just use a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Other times, we may not even know what to say, until we’ve mustered up the strength to form words and analyze our thoughts. But to have someone there for us in any physical form is really handy because, I promise you, there will be a moment where the survivor needs someone in some physical form, whether it’s a hug or a voice.

  3. If the surviving person or family is struggling financially, figure out a way to reach out and help them. Many people have plans set in place for their time of passing, whether that be a will, life insurance, or some savings. But there are certainly people or families who are not in a strong financial situation. Funeral costs can be very expensive: obituaries, flowers, rental hall space, caskets or urns, burial plots, burial stones, memorial and food cost…all these expenses can add up very quickly. If you know of a family in need of financial support, get creative in helping with the costs – whether it’s volunteering some of your own time to help set up, reaching out to a church or rental hall that will host the service at little to no cost, starting a Gofundme.com page, or hosting a fundraising event or dinner with friends, family, and coworkers. The worst feeling for a survivor, beyond simultaneously dealing with the loss of their loved one, is for them to feel like they aren’t able to fund the burial/cremation or honor their deceased in a way they would have liked.

  4. If you are close to the survivor and/or their family, offer to help with setting up the memorial service. Whether that’s collecting photos, writing a eulogy, putting together a slideshow or music playlist, buying/bringing flowers, decorating, reaching out to a catering group, making food, or putting together a remembrance pamphlet, there is plenty of work that needs to be done. The survivor may not ask for help, but don’t be fooled. They’ll definitely need family or friends to step in.

  5. Try to find something for them that will make them smile, laugh, or feel happy. Rent a comedy movie and watch it with them, take them to a standup show, ask them to go for a weekend jog with you, invite them to your church if you’re both religious, or offer to join them at theirs, send them a funny meme or email, make them a photo collage of their lost one with happy memories, take them on a weekend getaway, treat them to a spa package, go dancing with them, grab a couple beers together at their favorite spot, get them out of the house and do something they enjoy, do something physical to release some Serotonin, buy them a self-help coping book, take them to a sports game, or bring over some nice wine and good music. Respect their process; however, booze and other substances can help alleviate some of the present stresses and numb the pain temporarily, but try to steer clear of letting your survivor fall into a path of strict substance coping, as it doesn’t actually address the pain they’re feeling, it simply masks it.

  6. Give the survivor time to mourn; handle supporting and giving them space, delicately. It’s an interesting process, losing someone close to you. Immediately following the loss of someone close, survivors are often bombarded with calls and emails, but this may be the time they don’t want to talk at all. The initial loss often puts the survivors into a state of shock. Everyone has their own process for how they deal with death; however, many people fall into a sort of cloudy, comatose state of being. The amount of time a person will be in this phase varies, but for a period of time following the death of a loved one, it feels very surreal for the survivor. During this time, the survivor might distance themselves. They might need to take a personal leave of absence from work or school; they may isolate themselves from others, drop their hobbies or social activities, lose interest in things they used to enjoy, eat a lot or not eat at all, drink more, stop talking or communicating with others, or even fall into a state of depression. This is normal. As the supporter, it’s important to realize this is not a personal attack or reflection on you at all. The survivor is dealing with a serious transition and going through a very distraught and unpleasant mental state. The survivor will come out of this phase. But everyone’s healing time is different.

  7. Keep in mind that everyone’s healing and processing time is different. Just because your survivor went back to work, started picking up old hobbies, or is beginning to seem like themselves again, does not necessarily mean they’re resolved and feeling fully healed. They may still continue to go through ups and downs. Often it takes many weeks, to even months, before the survivor really starts to feel and notice the loss of their loved one. Even after a few months have passed, it may still be a good idea to pull your survivor aside, or give them a phone call, and with genuine interest, ask how they’re doing. This is also typically a more normal time for survivors to open up, since they’ve had more time to process the loss of their loved one. They may have had a better chance to accept the passing of their deceased and can better articulate what they’re feeling or thinking.

Sometimes people need therapy, sometimes people need religion, sometimes people need antidepressants, sometimes people need meditation, sometimes people need space, sometimes people need support, sometimes people need a change in their lives, and sometimes people simply need time. Whatever it is that your survivor needs, know they might not know right away what will best help them, either. Be delicate and give them space if it seems they want or need it. But also remember to be proactive about being supportive. Don’t wait for them to come to you. They have a lot to deal with on their own in this time of loss. Find a way to be supportive and just do it. They will be so grateful later.

Featured image from Bluntmoms.com

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Filed under Advice, Death, Help, Kysondra, LeDerp, Mourning, Psychology, Self Help, Therapy