Sometimes actions are better than words

In the past 23 years, Bel Air resident Sean P. Tully experienced the deaths of both his father and a brother and noticed some people were more comfortable than others when dealing him during his initial time of mourning.

In the days of viewings, prayer vigils and the eventual funeral and interment services, the 41-year-old St. Margaret, Bel Air, parishioner vividly recalls the ease some people had in comforting him and his family and the distress that others experienced.

“It’s just one of those things,” said Mr. Tully, a financial planner and married father of two young daughters. “Some people just don’t know what to say and it’s very uncomfortable for them. It doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on them. It’s just hard to know what to say to someone who has just experienced that kind of loss.”

It’s natural to be uncomfortable when approaching an individual who has recently lost a loved one, said Debbie Bena, faith community nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore.

“As a faith community nurse, I talk with people who have suffered the loss of loved ones pretty often, and I still come across situations where I have to overcome my own discomfort,” said Ms. Bena, a Towson resident and parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas, Hampden. “It’s because you know deep down inside that no matter what you say, it’s not going to make the grieving process progress any faster.”

There are several ways of comforting someone after their loved one has died that don’t involve uttering a word, she said.

“A general hug and direct eye contact are very positive ways of consoling someone,” Ms. Bena said. “It validates that you are there for them, even if you don’t know what to say. A lot of it is letting them know you are someone who cares and will listen.”

In an effort to comfort someone who is grieving, people often end up saying words that are inappropriate or inadvertently unsettling.

For example, it’s recommended people refrain from saying “it’s God’s will,” “be grateful for the time you had with him,” “he isn’t suffering now,” “you still have your memories” or “I know how you feel.”

“These are not helpful,” Ms. Bena said. “Also, if someone is talking about the person who has died, don’t change the subject because it makes you uncomfortable. Talking about it is a release for some people. Being a good listener is one of the best things you can do to help them.”

It is also not a good idea to tell someone they should be over their grief after several months, because everyone has their own way of mourning and shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to rush the process, she said.

However, if someone is showing signs of clinical depression several months after losing a loved one – such as weight fluctuation and losing interest in activities that used to bring them joy – it should be gently suggested they seek help, Ms. Bena said.

“Clinical depression can be a scary thing,” she said. “The longer someone is depressed, the harder it can be to get back to a normal state.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.