Wednesday, 3 October 2012


“ Gumaan ang pakiramdam ko”  - on a heart to heart talk to a crisis responder from a mother who have lost her home during a typhoon.

How do we comfort people in distress? What do we say to a person we know who have just lost a loved one? What can we do to ease the pain of friend who has just lost a a sibling or a parent, for  a mother or father who has lost a child?

For crisis responders, pastoral counselors, teachers, community organizers, parents and friends, there is the challenge on how to become sources of comfort for people who have experienced loss or are in distress. More often than not, it is not knowing what to do or even what to say in these situations which makes people hesitant to approach or comfort people in need.

How does one comfort the grieving?

1. We do not challenge what they are feeling,  belittle their experiences or compare their experiences with our own experiences.

 Some well-meaning friends would even recount their own experiences of personal loss  to their grieving friend 

“ hindi bale mare. Mawawala rin ang sakit na   nararamdaman mo.  Dati-rati, nung namatay yung tatay ko, matapang ako, di ako umiyak”

“ May isang anak ka pa naman. Hayaan mo na.   Isipin mo na lang siya.”

2.We approach them with gentleness, empathy and   acceptance.

Grieving people need the time and space to be able to process their feelings over their loss. The last thing they may need is to feel more stressed out. Family relatives need to realize that they need to be more understanding with each other at this time when all members of the family are grieving from the loss.

A mother who lost her eight years old daughter to cancer recall the parents of her son's classmate telling her that they have difficulty in talking to him because he refused to tell them anything  about his sister's death. 

Care providers do not need to add more stress to families who have lost everything in disasters by insisting that they answer questions or participate in group sessions.

We give time to  people who are grieving. We do not count the hours we are there for them. We do not even place a time element as to when they are expected to be healed from the pain that they are experiencing.

Yes, we may be that comforting presence where they can  feel safe to share what they truly feel about what they experienced. They are safe to cry, to unload their anger about their situation; they are safe with us if  they share their uncertainty and despair. 

We may help them in their realization of the strengths they have   amidst the difficult situation they were in.  

We are gentle, compassionate and caring listeners.

         3. Words that comfort and words that 
              may cause further distress

Let us tell them what is in our hearts and avoid platitudes which is so easy to say but bereft of meaning.

We may say:

Nakikiramay kami sa inyong pamilya” 
     ( I commiserate with your family)

“ I care about you. I am here for you.”

“ I would like to help. Maari akong tumulong 
   sa ganitong paraan"

“ Nasa prayers ko kayo ngayon.”

Narito lang ako para sa iyo ngayon, usap tayo 
   kung kailangan mong kausap

   (I’m here when you need me, let’s talk if you need 
     someone to talk to.”)

We do not need to intellectualize or provide answers to questions we do not know the answers to. Sometimes when asked, we could admit that we do not know the answers and it is okay.

We should be aware that there are words spoken which may devalue the grief and the emotions felt.

“ Huwag kang malungkot. Nandun na siya kay Lord.” ( Don’t be lonely. He’s with the Lord now”.

“I know how you feel”

NO one would really know what a grieving person feels. So avoid this phrase.

“ Be strong! Strive not to be weak-hearted!”

There are even words spoken which imputes malice or ill-intent to a grieving person:

“Why didn’t you bring your father to the hospital earlier? He   should have lived!

“ Why didn’t you learn how to drive a car? You should have brought him there yourself and not wait for an ambulance?”

“ Don’t you know that if you have given him CPR in the first 10 minutes, he might have lived?”

        4. Activities that comfort, Activities that Heal

There are many other activities which may be introduced to people who are in distressed or who are grieving. Care providers, concerned family members or friends may introduce some of these activities to comfort the grieving person:

  a)  Letter-writing

Both the person who comforts and the person needing comfort may write letters as a means to express what they feel about the distressing experience.

   b)   Story-telling

Story telling heals and bonds families in need of comfort. Story telling may be done as a way of remembering the departed. Grieving children will be able to learn stories they may not yet hear about their departed relative and they will feel the invisible bond of experiences that ties relatives to one another.
c)    Tradition setting and ritual making

Rituals may be initiated to commemorate the life of the departed relative. A ritual of remembering may be conducted by family members where they may recite poems, read the letters they have written at the grave of their loved one.  A shrine to the departed may also be made to remember the loved one. Making a collage or a scrapbook to remember the departed may also be made and initiated by the family.

Such an activity was done by a class of students for their classmate who drowned while swimming in their out-of-town excursion. The class wrote letters to their classmate who died and read them aloud one by one.
d)   Taking Care of the Self

The comforter may need to remind the grieving not to forget to take care of the self.

We may remind the grieving about the following:

a.  Eating nutritious food. Oftentimes, people who are grieving forget to eat sufficiently for their nutritional needs. Sometimes, they may eat too much or too little to the detriment of their health. Vitamin supplements may likewise be used.
b. Choose an exercise activity you enjoy doing. What helped me during the days I was grieving for my brother is the long walks I took around my community.
c. Exposure to sunlight is very helpful to the body; sun exposure  between 8 am to 10 am is recommended.
d. Adequate time for sleeping is very much important for all, not only for those who are grieving.


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