My research is based on interviews and conversations with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people. Over the years of graduate study I researched grief and spoke with leaders in the field. With the help of the National Funeral Director association and the Dodge Company, I met numerous funeral directors who wanted to help and who reported similar stories of people' helplessness and lack of knowledge about helping.
To get practical knowledge two friends, a pastor and a psychologist and I offered a simple program in Madison. We began a group meeting entitled "The Grief You Feel" and advertised it around Madison Wi. We were stunned when on a below zero night in January 16 people suffering all kinds of death related losses showed up.
One of the most striking and significant observations we observed in working with the bereaved is the multiplicity of losses when we lose a loved one. We not only lose the person who dies we lose all of the small and large things that person meant to us. The person we love is gone and we will be sad for that. Over time we will also find ourselves being sad, angry, lonely as we realize all the ways the person intertwined in our lives. The loss of a companion to talk or relax with, the loss of a helper with chores , the loss of the dream that a growing child brought to our lives, the loss of a spouse to help with and enjoy the happiness of our children. These individual losses make every loss unique. In many ways they also prolong our feelings of loss as we encounter thee individual meanings at times we most would have wanted to be with or needed the deceased. Enjoyable holidays, graduations, weddings, walks in the evening, help with housework and many more seemingly mundane activities that we shared, enjoyed or counted on our lost loved one are like pin pricks stabbing us with the painful reminder that our loved one is no longer here and can uncover our sadness or anger or other emotions when we least expect it. It is not uncommon to be caught off guard at such times. While it may be startling it is also common.
It is okay to discuss these feelings with those we love and to understand that our relationships are more complex based on love of the person as well as needs, dependencies, hopes dreams and trust.
My name is Dr. Donald Steele, I have studied grief and bereavement for over 30 years. My interest in grief counselling began with a conversation with a good friend who went to mortuary school. At the time there were only a few people dealing with grief and bereavement. Little research had been done. He told me his professors taught about grief and encouraged them as funeral directors to do grief counseling but gave few strategies. It seemed like a reasonable pursuit for me to attempt to create strategies and better understand grief to help not only funeral directors but the grieving themselves as well as ancillary professionals such as nurses and even speech or physical therapists.
My friend noted that he heard two things at almost every wake. 1) What can I do to help? and 2) some variant of "If there is ever anything they need let me know" He noted how he thought this odd that the visitors would speak to him about this, as he was unlikely to be very involved in people's lives after the funeral. He decided he would keep a calendar book handy at wakes. When people indicated they didn't know what to do but that they were willing he would take out the book and say, "there is something you can do. How about setting a date and time with me when you will go visit the bereaved family " That was it. It was simple and powerful because all it required was a visit and no special skill or obligation.
Later in my own conceptualization I used the mantra" Be there and listen". People need people and company and they often need to talk and relive their loss and the emotions that come from it. It is incredible how effective it can be to simply allow a person to talk it out.