| Jul 19, 2007

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Feature Article - July 19, 2007

Bereaved Families of Ontario

by Jeff Green

As the seventh anniversary of the death of her son Joe approaches, Cathy Goodfellow is able to reflect back on the days and weeks that followed the car accident that claimed Joe Goodfellow’s life.

“We were fortunate to have had such great support from family and neighbours,” Cathy said in an interview this week. The support included anonymous lawn mowers who kept the Goodfellow lawn tidy, and strangers who phoned up and told Cathy to pick up a casserole for supper.

There were some people, however, who did not know what to do. “Some people avoided us in the weeks and months following Joe’s death, and others avoided the topic, preferring to talk about the weather.”

About a year after Joe’s death, Cathy contacted the Kingston affiliate of the support group, Bereaved Families of Ontario, who have been particularly helpful.


“Everyone involved with the volunteer organization is bereaved themselves, so they really know what people go through,” she said.

Bereaved Families of Ontario have published a one page primer called “How to help me in my grief” that Cathy Goodfellow thinks is spot on in terms of helping people who have difficulty approaching people who are grieving.

The first point in “How to help me in my grief” is “Speak to me of the obvious. I know it’s painful to talk to me about my grief, but I feel less alone when others remember. Please, above all else, don’t avoid me. I need to know that you care.”

The primer then talks further about what people can do, from the need for human warmth over “right words”, to offering practical help with daily tasks, not trying to fix a grieving person’s pain, and being able to talk directly to someone when they appear to be making unsound decisions.

The primer concludes, “keep me company in the dark times. Stay near me until I can see the light again in my own eyes. Your love and caring mean more than I can convey in words.”

“How to help me in my Grief”

Speak to me of the obvious.

I know it's painful to talk to me about my grief, but I feel less alone when others remember. Please, above all else don't avoid me I need to know that you care. When you are silent about my grief, I feel more isolated and I am tempted to believe you have forgotten. It is okay to use the name of the one who has died and speak of what has happened.

I need your warm caring more than "right words".

It's awkward for me to hear you hunt for profound words. I'm hungry to hear, "I've been thinking of you"," I'm here, "You're in my heart" "I'll call you again tomorrow (or in a few days or next week)". A note, a phone call, a hand on my shoulder or a hug helps. I find it hard to glibly answer the question over and over, "How are you?" I'm grieving - and that means I generally feel lousy. Be with me and tell me you care. It's easier for me to hear you than to find a quick answer about me.

I know my sadness will last longer than either you or I want it to.

I'm afraid you will tire of my grief and I'll need to hide it from you. I'm afraid you'll avoid me if I don't pull it together soon - and then I'll be even more alone. I need to know you are in it for the long haul. It helps when others remember key dates - the birthdays, holidays, anniversary, dates of the heart. I need a few people to still be there and remember next week, next month, next year- a few people who don't expect me to be "over it" soon.

Please let go of trying to fix my pain.

I'm likely to be on overload with advice and suggestions. Be patient with me if I can't concentrate enough to read the books you bring me. When others try to tell me why this tragedy has happened, what I should do or what I should feel, I wonder it if isn't their own sense of helplessness they are trying to quiet. Please ask me what I need. And if I don't know, give me a hug and let it be okay. I know I'm not much fun right now. Somehow I need to hear both that I have the right to be sad, and that you believe I will gradually find my way through this painful time.

Share your stories and memories.

One of the sweetest gifts I can image is stories about how the one I miss so much now, has also touched your life. Sweet moments, funny moments, stray memories are like a photograph I can add to my memory album. It's never too soon or too late to share them with me I welcome them and I thank you for them.

Offer to help with daily practical things.

I know others want to be caring and helpful to me- and sometimes I'm frustrated in not knowing what I need or how to ask Sometimes ordinary things are a huge help. Maybe you can offer to come eat with me or go for a walk with me. Ask me if I want sometime to myself or company

Maybe its help with the paper work or taxes, yard work, or someone to sit with at a public event that might help. And if I turn you down- whether it’s for help or for an outing- be brave enough to ask me again another time.

Please remember that we all grieve in our own way.

I may be clumsy as I struggle to know how to grieve and heal. I may be self-absorbed at times, sometimes insensitive, other times overly sensitive. I may need to talk and talk, and say the story over and over to anyone caring enough to listen. Or I may have a need to be more private and quiet in my grief. I may worry you with how sad I look and how often I'm in tears- or I may worry you that my sadness doesn't show much on the outside. Some of us are outgoing and share things easily and some of us are more reserved. The pain is there for all of us who grieve, even though we show it differently.

If you are worried about how I'm doing- it's okay to talk to me directly.

I know I may not be myself for awhile., I may act in ways that aren't familiar to you or to me. If you get worried about if I'm safe if I'm doing things that make my healing harder, if you hear me making decisions that don't sound very smart, love me enough to talk to me about it. I'll do my best to listen and consider what you are saying, and I ask you to do your best to also consider if what I am doing may be one of the many variations in healthy grieving- or not.

Mostly, thank you, for your love and support.

I'm told the journey through grief is a long one. I may get scared or lost at times. With family and friends solidly there for me I know I can inch my way through this tunnel. Keep me company in the dark times. Stay near me until I can see the light again with my own eyes. Your love and caring mean more than I can convey in words.

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