In November 2009 I was looking at the November 2008 issue of Reader's Digest [my Mom doesn't throw very much away] and was struck by an article written by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend titled Beyond Tragedy. The lead in to the article read .. "My father taught me how to handle death with grace and courage. Forty years later, his example still gives me comfort. It touched me.
The sidebar writing on Giving Comfort was something I thought more of us should know. I have copied this sidebar verbatim below.
I have a set of lessons learned about how to console those who have suffered a loss, based on my own personal experience and observations over the years.
First, go to the funeral. Thirty years ago, Mayor Richard Lee of New Haven, Connecticut, told me that he always went to funerals. "It's there that you see people, he said, and that they see you. It's there that you mingle with families, listen to them talk, and lend your full support. I had never heard that advice stated so explicitly, but he was exactly right. Death opens an enormous hole in the heart. A funeral service brings together those who can help fill that hole.
Second, call or write your friend when someone close to her or him has died. It is remarkable how few people actually reach out in tough times. Perhaps they don't know what to say; perhaps they think the person would prefer to be left alone. It is better to try and be rejected than to never try at all. Your friend can always resist the effort - not answer the phone, not open the letter. But it is hard to imagine anyone not appreciating it.
Third, never say "You will get over it." People rarely do.
The death of a loved one rips us apart, shakes us up, hurts terribly. So my fourth tip is to embrace the person who suffers. I think of the kiss my mother would give me when I would scrape my knee or cut my finger. Her act of love was more healing than any antiseptic.
Make it clear in the letter or phone call to your friend that she or he is wonderful. The outstretched arm, the warm embrace, the freshly baked cookies, or the fragrant flowers do not replace the life. Not by any means. But they do say to the grieving friend, "You are loved. You are cherished."
I felt convicted after reading this. I am guilty of not reaching out to friends when they have been suffering. I've thought "I don't want to bother them." But, this writing is proof again - it's not up to us to worry about "bothering" someone in need. it's up to us to "be there - fully."