Helping grieving friends

March 24, 1992|By Linell Smith

Sometimes the fear of triggering emotion prevents people from trying to help friends or acquaintances who have suffered the death of someone close.

"If you don't know the person very well, your reluctance to ask about their grief is justified," says Peter Hartman, a psychiatrist and instructor in the department of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. But there are ways to express condolences that aren't intrusive:

* Acquaintances can make concrete offers of help, such as bringing over a casserole or taking the kids to school for a week.

* A touch from a close friend can speak more eloquently than words, Dr. Hartman says. Hold someone's hand, give him a hug, put your arm around his shoulder. You don't really have to say anything. Let your friend literally cry on your shoulder.

* Be persistent with your grieving friends, advises author Diane Cole. "The first time you call her, your friend may be so sad that she can't talk to you. But call back the next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. Take your cue from what someone wants to say or doesn't want to say. If she wants to talk, listen and be there."

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