How to get ready to be helpful.

I started this project to give us (me) some solid research about what people (you and me) find helpful when facing loss. And I’m working on learning models of grief that take us beyond the idea of stages of grief.

But it’s easy for me to get lost in the thinking, in getting the research right.

But I realized that fundamentally, i’m trying to help some guy know what to say when his friend’s mom dies. Right? Or when your kid sister loses a baby. And you really don’t know what to say, how to help, how to feel. Because it’s never happened to you before. Never happened to them before.

So Jon, what you want to do, what you need to do, what you get to do, is look at that guy, that gal and say,


Tell me about your relationship with them. Tell me about their personality. Tell me what their favorite kind of coffee is, or tell me how much they hate coffee. Tell me about the hardest moment in their life so far. How did you help them? At what moment did they look at you and say, ‘thanks’?

Or tell me what time they usually get up? What time do they usually go to bed? Do they like crowds or do they like just a couple people around?

When things are tough, do they sit quietly or do they like to do something, to stay busy?

Here’s why I’m asking you these questions. At the moment, you are trying to figure out how to deal with your own grief, your own discomfort. And so you are going to say and do the things that help you feel better. But in this moment, this is about them. This is about how they feel things, about how they do things.

And here’s what’s going to happen.

Some people are going to say stuff they saw someone say on TV or that they heard from someone.

Some people are going to draw on their own loss.

Some people are going to avoid everything.

But you?

You are going to think about your friend or your kid sister and how they live in life, and you are going to respond and support them.

You aren’t going to try to talk them out of being them.

You aren’t going to try to make them be comforted the way other people are comforted.

Because no one has ever lost this person before.

So go along with me for a minute.

Read these questions. Answer them out loud.

1. What’s the story they always told about their mom?

2. What’s the thing they loved about their dad, but never told him? Can you tell them about it and tell them that he knew?

3. What’s the place that they always go when everything is blowing up?Can you send them a picture of that place?

4. What’s the task around the house that they hate most? Can you do that task this week?

There’s not a list of magic questions and answers.

The magic is turning your attention to what they need, based on how well you know them.


There will be more research later. But that’s a way to be helpful now.

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