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Bereavement Support Services
What Others Can Do

What Others Can Do

Reach Out to Families Who Have Lost a Loved One.

She was talented, witty, a theatre and film critic, an aspiring chef and stage performer; she was always "Technicolor". She taught us how to live and, sadly, also how to die. Our daughter, Heidi, died in February after 2 ½ years of struggling with leukemia. She was 21. We learned so much about ourselves and how many of the attitudes within America do not support those who are grieving.

Burying one's child is "out of order". There is no preparation for dealing with such a loss. My wife and I have been blessed with three other daughters, their wonderful husbands and extended family who grieve as deeply as we do. But we have observed the difficulties others have had relating to us. Why do Americans find crying so difficult? Why do we say that someone is "doing well" during the grieving process if we don't see him/her crying? Crying is essential. We must purge our hearts of the grief. A number of people have apologized for crying in our presence. I have always told them that it's a comfort to me that they cry. It shows they care. Another difficulty we experienced occurred when people would say: "If there is anything I can do, just call." This well-intentioned sentiment is not really helpful. During Heidi's struggle we were too tired to think about what others could do for us. Although they were showing us their concern, it's really better to be specific: "Do you want me to do …?" Or just bring food over!

Too many people feel awkward because they don't know what to say or do. There is NOTHING that can be said that takes away the pain. There are no proper words; there are no great insights. What is important is that the other person comes and is willing to listen. Americans, especially men, are preoccupied with "fixing" things and making a situation better. A death can never be fixed, and the grief is not going to be made better by anything someone is going to say. Ultimately each person has to journey through grief alone and come to terms with all that it means. Americans are "cussedly" independent, but we are ill-equipped to travel alone and sit quietly and patiently with our thoughts, prayers, and sadness. So we are not prepared for these journeys – sometimes we may not even know how to begin. Friends should never hesitate to call or visit, and shouldn't be afraid of "bothering" someone who is grieving. Of course, we need some space, but we do not need to be avoided because "you" are uncomfortable. Too many of Heidi's friends failed to see her when she was alive because they were uncomfortable or did not know how to deal with her struggle. Caring for someone else means that we have to "get over" our own feelings of inadequacy or discomfort – "it" is not about us. "It" is about the person who needs our care.

Americans tend to avoid talking about someone who has died. Those of us who are grieving have constant pain. One of the best therapies for us is to talk about our loved one. We have an insatiable need to talk about Heidi and keep her spirit alive. People believe that they are adding to our pain if they talk about her. This attitude does not help. If you care about someone else who has lost a child, encourage him/her to talk about the child, even if you are uncomfortable. Remember, pain will always be uncomfortable, and a true friend will be willing to share that discomfort. The best gifts that anyone can give are a comforting shoulder and a willingness to listen. Our hearts will be restored with love. It will take time and patience to find joy again.

Charlie Schmidtke, Associate Professor at Canisius College – lives in Town of Tonawanda, NY.


Please--- don’t ask me if I’m over it yet, I’ll never be “over it.”

Please--- don’t tell me he/she’s in a better place. He/she isn’t here.

Please--- don’t say “at least he/she isn’t suffering.” I haven’t come to terms with why he/she had to suffer at all.

Please---don’t tell me you know how I feel, unless you have lost a child.

Please--- don’t tell me to get on with my life. I’m still here, you’ll notice.

Please--- don’t ask me if I feel better. Bereavement isn’t a condition that “clears up.”

Please--- don’t tell me “God never makes a mistake.” You mean he did this on purpose?

Please--- don’t tell me “at least you had him/her for ‘so many’ years.” What year would you choose for your son/daughter to die?

Please--- don’t tell me God never gives you more than you can bear – who decides how much any person can bear?

Please--- just say you are sorry.

Please--- just say you remember him/her if you do.

Please--- just let me talk if I want to.

Please--- let me cry when I must.