How to help someone cope with the death of a loved one

There is no way of predicting how a person will react when they receive the news that a loved one has passed away. Shock is the most common initial response.

The newly bereaved will feel like their whole world has been shattered and they will feel insecure and unsafe. Therefore it is recommended to give the person in shock some form of human touch such as hug, a hand on his or her arm, or by holding their hand. This will give them an immediate feeling of consolation.

A twenty second hug releases the bonding hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin. Oxytocin decreases the level of stress hormones (primarily cortisol) that a body manufactures when faced with trauma.

It's vital the bereaved people have support. Usually the friends and extended family of bereaved people gather around them to offer comfort and support. Support also comes from neighbours, workmates and club and / or church associates.

These days social networks such as Facebook offers people yet another form of support.


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A bereaved person will need to get in touch with his or her feelings and then talk about them. Human beings are not designed to internalize emotions, particularly the intense feelings associated with grief. These emotions need to be expressed otherwise there is a risk of further complications further down the track.

Although our culture has in the past encouraged us to keep a stiff upper lip whilst mourning, thankfully attitudes towards bereavement have improved over the last few decades.

Gestures of sympathy such as hugging and releasing of sadness through crying, (even in public), have become more socially acceptable in recent years.

This is perhaps because people are more aware of how important it is to express grief, not supress it. When visiting people who have lost someone close to them, I usually ask them to tell me about their loved one.

By asking this, I am providing the bereaved people the opportunity to talk about the precious one they have lost and the events surrounding his or her passing. Most people fail to do this for fear of enhancing their sorrow, however it is recommended by people in my field of counselling that we encourage them to talk about what happened and speak openly and honestly about their relationship with that person.

I usually also ask to see a photo of their loved one. This may trigger tears (which is perfectly fine), and it usually opens the door for them to share stories about their life with that person.

At any time you can phone Lifeline for support 13 11 14.

*Del Marie McAlister is a professional bereavement counsellor with Compassionate Bereavement Services

Topics:  death grief

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