Dealing with Grief

By: Tim Elliott

Compassion, empathy and sincerity are attributes that anyone working in the funeral service business must have. These attributes along with great listening skills can make the familys grieving more bearable.

As an After Care/Pre Need Counsellor, during the past year I have come in contact with many families in different stages of the grieving process. Understanding that every person is different and will handle their grief in different ways can be instrumental in helping them make difficult decisions at a very emotional time. Dealing with more than one family member during an arrangement can be very challenging.

I have met with families that need to make prearrangements for an imminent situation. This may occur hours, weeks or even months prior to their At-Need arrangements. Upon meeting the family, with sincerity and compassion, I offer words of comfort. I assure them that they will be well looked after and we are all here to help. I explain my role as the person who will be looking after them after the service has taken place. I give them my business card and tell them I will contact them to set up an aftercare session that involves completing the Canada Pension Plan benefit paperwork. It is often during this initial, although brief meeting, I can instil hope that they will get through this ordeal.

Each family member and friend that is present during the arrangement conference and aftercare session needs to be acknowledged, comforted, and told that any emotion they are experiencing is normal, because each person will handle the loss of a loved one differently. People that were very close such as a spouse or sibling may be very emotional.  Even the person sitting quietly almost apart from the rest, is impacted by this loss so it is important to include everyone in the conversation.

Also to let the person making the arrangements know that there are many resources available to them. Although they may not feel it is necessary at the moment, it is wise to provide literature and phone numbers for them to utilize later.

At any time such as prior to or during visitation, or any other encounter I offer my service in any capacity, whether it is to fetch water, a chair or replenish prayer cards. A day or two after the service I call and reintroduce myself, ask how they are doing and to arrange their aftercare session allowing them to choose whether to meet at the funeral home or their home. Some prefer not to return to the funeral home and that is understandable.

Having a friend or family member present during the meeting is one of the best support options readily available. In addition, the extra person may comprehend better and therefore be beneficial well after our meeting has ended.

I find that during the aftercare session, many people describe the previous few days as a blur. I encourage them to speak about their experience, their loved one and the celebration of life and/or the funeral. During this encounter, I find the people become more at ease than our initial meeting. We can talk at length if they need to and I can gain more insight to how they are coping and how the family is coping. I again, validate their feelings and encourage them to initiate a meeting with their clergy, doctor or other health professional. Part of my aftercare session includes providing a package they take home and within it includes local grief counsellors, volunteer support group information and occasionally a company provided toll free compassion help telephone number.

I will also see people who have accepted the loss of their loved one but this is usually after much time has passed. Many people I encounter say they wished they had done things differently or wonder aloud many what if scenarios, while others are still dealing with anger, denial and/or depression.

Understanding and explaining the different stages of grief enables me to help the family cope. Many people I have dealt with put on a brave face and say they are doing fine. Some are fine, but some are not.

When people are physically upset with grief, being kind, consoling and offering sympathetic and ensuring encouragement can help them gain their composure. Let them take as much time as needed and allow them the choice to reschedule if possible. Flexibility and patience go hand in hand when dealing with grieving people.

If I have just met the people making arrangements because they have just walked in without making an appointment, it is important to get the information that I require but with the utmost tact and care. Acquiring the family members vital statistics neednt be a cold statistic finding function. Done with the proper inquisitive emotion, obtaining the vital statistics can reveal much about the person and those making the arrangements. By the time I have all the vitals; I have a good understanding of the persons ethnicity, religious background and economic status. Knowing this helps me interact, ask appropriate questions and offer the most practical solution to fit their needs.

Unfortunately in our line of work, we deal with people of all ages. Fortunately we have a vast resource of talented professionals in our industry and I am blessed to work with and learn from many of them. The family unit can become stronger or torn apart after a loved one has died. There are many family dynamics and many ways grief can affect those dynamics. Recognizing that losing an elderly grandparent, although very sad, is quite different from losing a life partner, a young child, a teenager, a young adult or a sibling. The living are now faced with a life without their significant other, their child or sibling.

Often we have never met the people before they came through our doors to serve them during the worst time of their lives. We know very little of the people before us and even less of their departed loved one. Only these people know truly how they feel towards each other and what will forever be missed. But none of this matters because they chose us to help them. We will serve them with the professionalism they expect. We will listen to them. We will give all we have to assist and serve our families with the sincerity and compassion they deserve.