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Living with Dying: Grief etiquette

“Grieving is private, but it can be public, too. We need to stop being afraid of public mourning. We need to be open to mourners. We need to look each other in the eye, and say ‘I am so sorry.’” — Jess Decourcy Hinds
In a previous column we noted that grief is a natural as well as very personal process. People who are grieving can be comforted by our presence and acknowledgement of their loss and grief. Because we want to say something to comfort the person who is grieving, but not sure what to say or do, here are a few ideas of what some people have found to be helpful — and what might not be helpful.
Imagine this situation: Your neighbor, Sam, recently died of a terminal illness. His wife took care of him at home for nearly two years. You run into her as she retrieves the newspaper from the mailbox.
What you might say:
I’m so sorry for your loss. It was an honor to know Sam — or to be Sam’s neighbor/friend/co-worker. (Speak the name of the person who died. This conveys that you are not afraid to talk about him or to hear what the grieving person might want to say.)
I admire you for your courage and strength throughout Sam’s illness. (Acknowledge her role as the caregiver.)
Sam touched so many lives. (Say how Sam touched your life; share something you remember about him.)
Sam was such a wonderful neighbor. We all share in your loss and sadness, and will really miss him. (It is never too late to express this; the residual pain will never completely disappear.)
I would like to bring you dinner tonight, or we will keep your sidewalk shoveled this winter, or I can help with keeping your birdfeeders filled. (Offer something specific.)
What not to say:
Give me a call any time you need something. (Don’t make them have to initiate contact or a request for help.)
Just keep yourself busy. (Don’t assume what they need at any given point.)
I know how you feel. (We can’t begin to know how an individual feels — but we can listen and learn.)
You must be relieved — his care was becoming such a burden. (It is their loss, not yours.)
At least Sam isn’t suffering anymore, or Sam is in a better place. (This conveys that you’re not open to hearing any negative thoughts/feelings.)
God only gives us what we can handle. (Platitudes like this might make us feel better, but they may be insulting to the person grieving.)
 —– —— ——- —— —–
If words escape you, don’t escape from the grieving person. Simply be with them in the moment. Listen for where they are. Show up with sensitivity and kindness. Follow your heart.
“When encountering someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, don’t run away, hide or ignore. Smile, embrace, hug, show your love, it will mean more than words,” says Daphne Diego of ARCH.    
Editor’s note: This column is provided by the End of Life Care Partnership that has been operating here in Addison County for eight years. Its mission is “to create a framework for our organizations to collaborate on our common goal of providing education about dying, death and options for care.”
This column will work if we get questions from you, our readers. We want to hear from you, what is on your mind and heart regarding this challenging issue that each of us will need to address in our lives? Send your questions to [email protected].

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