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Pointers for the Bereaved and Their Well-Meaning Friends

02 Oct

Hello again.  We’ve gotten quite a few requests for us to again post our guide for the bereaved (and their well-meaning friends).  Here it is.  Please feel free to add your own insights and suggestions to the list.

If you’re grieving:
  • Take care of your energy. Rest. Don’t overdo. You’ll be more fatigued than usual, and you can make yourself vulnerable to illness during this time if you don’t. So pick and choose priorities, and treat yourself gently and well.

  •  Pay attention to what you feel like doing and what you don’t feel like doing, and, if it’s not too outrageous or expensive, follow suit.
  •  Listen and practice regularly to guided imagery, meditation or relaxation programs.

  • Don’t be afraid of your sadness. It won’t kill you. It’s just a feeling, after all, and you’ll feel better and more energized for letting it move through you. Besides, you will use up tons of energy avoiding it, and it will catch up to you anyway. In the beginning it will come and go in waves, and, just like labor contractions, there’s respite in the in-between times. Later on it will be more like a flavoring that adds to most times.

  • Avoid annoying people. They’ll be even more annoying now.

  • Expect poor sleep and agitation for a few months, due to elevated levels of stress hormones (this is normal); then a return to more normal sleep patterns, but an upsurge in sadness and greater recognition of loss.

  • Don’t make any big decisions right away, unless it can’t be helped. Let things sift and sort. Otherwise, you could do something really dumb, like sell your house before you’re ready, or move in with a jerk so you won’t have to be alone. Take it slow.

  • Maintain some structure, whether it’s going to the gym, showing up for work, seeing good friends for lunch, or volunteering at church. The structure will carry you through the times you’d just as soon stay under the covers and suck your thumb.

  • Tell people what you need - people who are capable of delivering, that is. The corollary to this is obvious: avoid self-centered or demanding people. Lord knows, they’ll keep for later.

  • Set good boundaries. Well-meaning people will be offering unsolicited advice, some of it a really bad idea; some suggestions will be a complete projection that has nothing to do with you; or they’ll be unwittingly patronizing. Be clear and firm with them, even if you don’t feel like it. This will keep you from biting their heads off later on, when you’ve REALLY had it.

  • Take care, because you’ll be preoccupied and foggy at times. So watch your driving, double-check the subtraction in your checkbook, and keep an eye on the treads on those stairs.

  • Experiment with what you’re up for. Don’t be rigid in your assumptions. After all, this is a time that will invite you to change and grow, whether you like it or not. Might as well change and grow. Do new, interesting things, return to favorite old things, and meet good, new people.

  • Experiment with your autonomy. Use this time to figure out what you want and what you can do, without your loved one to consult or consider. You might be surprised at what you discover about yourself, if you keep an open mind.

  • Don’t let people devalue you because of your loss.  You’re the same person, whether you’re part of a pair or on your own. That’s their problem, not yours.

  • Help somebody else.
And if you’re friends or family:
  • Remember that just expressing your concern and condolences, sincerely but quickly, in a way that doesn’t demand a lot back, is plenty. No one expects you to make the pain go away.

  • Ask what you can do. And only offer to do things that you can really follow through on. This is not a good time for polite insincerity. (Is there ever?)

  • Try not to offer something that you know the person won’t want or need. That will only make him or her feel more isolated, angry or disconnected.

  • Be respectful of boundaries. Don’t ambush a mourner at work or at the gym, clutching his hand with both of yours, looking deeply into his eyes and oozing sympathy. He’s trying to maintain composure and focus, and the last thing he needs is a spontaneous Grief Fest initiated by you. (Close friends rarely do this - it’s usually a random acquaintance who oversteps in this way.)

  • Leave messages - voicemail or email - or send a thoughtful little gift, showing that you’re thinking about the person, and asking nothing in return. It’s really considerate to make it clear that no response is needed or expected.

  • Don’t make demands; and don’t expect a normally good-natured, generous person to be their good-natured, generous selves for several months - maybe even a year or two.

  • Expect more irritation and sensitivity from your friend than usual and make allowances.

  • Don’t go on and on about how devastated, upset and anguished you are over this death or loss. Compared to the mourner’s grief, it’s a drop in the ocean, and she’s hard pressed to care how you feel. So put a lid on it.

  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Watch for glazed over eyes and fidgeting, and at the first signs of either, stop doing whatever you’re doing and regroup by changing the subject or going away.

  •  Avoid clichés like "At Least He’s Not in Pain Now" or "God Only Gives Us What We Can Bear". Trust me, the mourner didn’t want to hear this the first time he heard this, and he doesn’t want to hear it now.

  • Don’t expect the person to get over this in a few months. Not gonna happen. This is a process that extends for 2-3 years at its most intense levels.

  • Humor, a juicy piece of community news, or a genuine request for advice in her area of her expertise can be a welcome distraction and a lovely, if temporary, return to normalcy for your grieving friend.

  • Mostly, it’s all about being watchful, patient, respectful and sensitive; putting aside your needs for the other person; talking less and listening more. Yes, I know - so what else is new?

If you have time, don’t forget to check our ever-changing featured packs, offered at considerable discount. You can find them by clicking here.

And, for those of you who need the ammunition of research to prove the value of guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, breathwork and other integrative therapies at your workplace, remember: we have a huge data base of thousands of abstracted studies, archived by health issue, over at our Hot Research page.

Take care and be well.
All best,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award