Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A friend indeed?

I’ve had many conversations with widows/widowers about how
our friends have changed after the death of our loved one.
Often, these are the same friends we turn to for support
and who we think failed us by not being there when we
needed them most.

Up until I spoke with Deborah E. Bowen, who is a Licensed
Clinical Social Worker in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
and co-author (with Susan L. Strickler, M.Ed.)of "A Good
Friend for Bad Times: Helping Others through Grief,” I
really only looked at the situation from my perspective –
what I needed back then and what they didn’t do for me.
Afterward, I realized that (for some of my friends anyway)
I could've asked for help when they wanted to give it. They
wanted to feel needed.

Deborah’s book is NOT for us, but was written for both
non-professionals and professionals who need to know
what to say and do or not) when someone grieves. I
asked Deborah about what we needed to do or say to
our friends who are trying to support us. Perhaps we
are pushing them away, even subconsciously, with our
actions or lack of actions.

“But Lisa (you might be saying), why should we worry
about this? We are the ones who lost someone…they
should be supportive regardless.” “I’m too grief-
stricken to care about how I’m talking or not talking
to someone.” Perhaps, but we might be able to learn
something from this. Maybe the next time a friend
approaches you about helping you, you’ll know what
to say and how to say it so that friend feels
appreciated. As a result, that friend might not
disappear and a friendship might be saved. Of course
I can’t say this will or won’t happen with 100
percent certainty, but it’s worth noting.

I asked Deborah the following questions:

What can we expect from those who are by our side
when our loved one dies? What
can/should they be
doing for us? Should we have any expectations?

People who are with us when a loved one dies have
a variety of help they are willing
to give. Some
people need to be physical caretakers(running
errands, cooking, cleaning
our house). Others
need to be emotional caretakers (listening,
letting us cry).
Some people can't do anything,
and need to distance themselves from us. Accept
and honor those friend who can't be present
with us.

Should we ask for help? It's very hard to do so.
How can we convey that we need help
of some sort
without appearing needy or like a charity case?

YES! Ask for help. I know this is difficult
for some people, but we really are
helping those
who want to help us by giving them a specific task
they can accomplish.
People generally need to feel

Why do those who promise to be by our side in the
beginning suddenly leave our side
at some point?
I've had people say, "I'll always be there for
you," and yet they
aren't there anymore. This
really hurts. Why does it happen?

Grief is a process, and it takes a long time to
work through the stages of grief.
In our fast-paced
world, people don't always remember that, for
someone who is
grieving, time stands still. It is
particularly difficult to sustain emotional
connections during times of anger, or denial.
The grieving person needs to let
those friends
go who can't be present, and not feel resentment,
or turn their
grief on the friend who has left.

What tips do you have for us -- who are grieving
-- so the relationship between
us and the person
helping us can be better?

Be as honest as you can be about your emotions,
your needs and your pain. People
do better when
they have information. For example, say, "I am
so sad today.
I just need to cry and to remember."
Then, your friend has the option of offering
support (or not). In my book, I give clear,
concise activities that people who
support people
who are grieving can do for a period of up to
a year after loss.
Those suggestions would be
helpful for your friends.
Thanks Deborah!

You can learn more about Deborah’s book by
visiting her website:

Until next time, you might be young, but you're
not alone.



miss you said...

Question...Has Deborah Bowen ever lost her husband, her soul, her mind, her dreams for the future, her dreams of her husband and child bonding, laughing and growing together, the wishes for all the activities/holidays/special occasions her husband and son will share knowing those are now crushed, her ability to feel sincere happiness in her heart, her will to live even 2 1/2 years past the death of her amazing, wonderful husband, etc. I have had few family members validate my grief, they're just not good people so that was not a surprise. As far as friends go, I have been fortunate to have a few friends who have been with me from the beginning. For those friends who came around for a few weeks and then disappeared...I can only imagine they were afraid. Afraid of what to say/not say, afraid of being too close to my reality and feeling this might actually happen to them some day. I asked for help. In fact, I cried for help. Based on the behaviors I observed, some people felt I should get it together after a few months. This is due, in part, to the fact that they just did not have a clue how I felt. I didn't have a clue how I felt. The black hole is very, very black and deep and few people throw in ropes. There are some amazing people in the world and there are some not so amazing people. You can suggest widows/widowers don't ask for help and should understand why they don't get help, but if you're a descent person...that really shouldn't matter in the big picture. The day before my husband's death, I had absolutely no idea how a widow/widower felt at any time during their grief. I can truly say this experience has taught me to be a better person. But I tell you I certainly wish I could go back in time knowing what I know now about those unsupportive people and how they were there for all the good times and the fluff but how they quickly fade away when things got tough.
I received cards and e-mails from some friends months/years later and those mean a lot to me. They were thinking of us..sometimes that is enough but you should let the griefing person know you're making an effort. Don't give up on them and believe in yourself and know you can help them even if it's only a small gesture. We don't know what's going on for a very long time. We can't make heads or tails of our new life for a very long time. We can't crawl out of the black hole without some rope...even if your rope is attached to someone else's.

Lisa Iannucci said...

"Miss you" i totally understand what you mean. I've been really hurt by my best friend who walked out of my life and have been touched by those who have stayed by my side. I have asked for help for it to be ignored, but at times I've been given gifts w/o asking. I'm hoping Deborah just gave a little bit of insight into what the other person is thinking. I'm so glad that you came out on the other side of your grief a better person in how you treat people. That's a gift -- that's something to treasure after going through what we've been through. It took me a long time to understand how someone could be like that when I keep saying how i would "never" do something like that to someone going through so much pain. Everybody experiences the friendships as differently as they experience the grief. Thanks so much for commenting on the blog!