In 2011, writer Meghan O’Rourke and psychologist Leeat Granek wrote a series of articles about grief for Slate magazine based on a survey they conducted (see http://www.slate.com/articles/life/grieving.html). Eight thousand readers responded to questions focused on the emotional and social challenges of grieving.
“The most surprising aspect of the results is how basic the expressed needs were, and yet how profoundly unmet many of these needs went,” they wrote. “Asked what would have helped them with their grief, the survey-takers talked again and again about acknowledgement of their grief. They wanted recognition of their loss and its uniqueness; they wanted help with practical matters; they wanted active emotional support. What they didn’t want was to be offered false comfort in the form of empty platitudes.”
These basic courtesies and acts of support have been lost over time as our culture has become more alienated from death and dying and consequently those who mourn. Offer to mow the lawn. Help pick up kids from school. Send a donation in honor of the deceased to an organization that will be meaningful to the grieving family. Avoid platitudes. Make a phone call. Speak the name of the deceased often. These are answers to the question “What can I do to help?”