To the bereaved

To the bereaved Pixabay 984644

Extract From: Dare To Grow From Adversity
Author: Yvonne Thomas
Self Published: Available as E_Book and Paperback
Printed with Permission
Copyright: Yvonne Thomas

Yvonne Thomas is a Queensland Family Celebrant. 

Dare to Grow Through Adversity is one of her many gifts to the world, written from the personal experience of losing her childhood sweetheart, soul-mate and husband Robert Marsall Thomas to cancer at the age of 36. Bob's death came swiftly and unexpectedly, and his last days poorly managed. Yvonne shares her personal journey of loss and grief, through extracts from her journals, and the lessons she learnt from the pain and trauma of personal experience.

Yvonne shares her vision of love and spirituality and her commitment to grow throughout her life with passion and hope.

‘’Nobody likes to witness grief it is a terrible state in which to be in, everyone including the bereaved feels helpless at this time"

Sadly we live in a society where we are not comfortable with our own pain, let alone witnessing someone else’s pain. After the death has taken place, the bereaved need to be able to express their pain and suffering in a safe and non judgemental environment.

In most cases their entire world has been shattered as they know it. It is as if their world has stopped. They are stuck in a time warp.


Nothing is what it used to be. Nothing will ever be the same again. Their world as they know it has been broken into tiny pieces depending upon the intensity of the relationship they had with the deceased.

When a bereaved person tries to express their real feelings and these feelings are not validatedin some way, they will just feel ‘shut down’. Saying to them ‘time will heal’ etc., is simply not comforting to them in fact it has been my experience that you can actually make them feel worse.

Their world is empty now. Their pain is right now. They are barely able to get out of bed and face each day, so telling them ‘time will heal’ means absolutely nothing to them at this point in time of their life. By attempting to respond with these so called words of wisdom and not responding to their expression of pain actually makes them feel misunderstood, and their feelings not validated.

I felt like I did not have the right to express my deep seated sorrow. I should ignore these intense feelings, stuff them inside and focus only on the future and being positive, and not acknowledge these feelings inside of me.

The bereaved learn to ‘shut down’ very easily because people do not know how to deal with their intense pain. We think ‘words of comfort’ and ‘being strong’ is the right way to behave. Denying the intense feelings of grief, hoping like  hell the intense pain inside will go away. The reality is the pain does not go away. Instead the bereaved can go through life with a ‘mask’ on, shielding the pain and torment, feeling all the more isolated from the people around them. If these deep emotions are suppressed, it will result as depression or for some people disease sets in the body. The bereaved need an outlet to be able to release These intense feelings within them.

I remember people commenting to me that ‘I was so strong’, ‘I am handling this so well’, these comments reinforced that this was what was expected of me in dealing with my loss. ‘I had to be strong’! It didn’t feel safe for me to express my pain. Every time I attempted to express my pain, I would be given (well intended) words of wisdom like ‘you have to be strong’, ‘at least you have the children, it would be far worse if you were older and the children had left home’.

Very rarely did I have anyone actually acknowledge the pain I was experiencing, so it felt like my pain was not only being denied, but the pain began spiralling inwards, sucking my energy into a black hole of depression which grew over time. People were uncomfortable with my pain. Nobody likes to witness grief it is a terrible state in which to be in. Everyone including the bereaved feel helpless at this time.

For me, shutting down my feelings was a normal way of life. I have always been a ‘people pleaser’ and making people feel comfortable is what I have done well in life, so at the expense of my own well being I continued to deny my feelings so that others would not feel uncomfortable around my Grief. I thought ‘who wants to be around someone who is miserable all the time?’ I started to direct the actor in me, I played the leading role of a person ‘being in control’, ‘handling things really well’, ‘looking to the future’ and ‘not dwelling on the past’. I became an expert at suppressing my feelings inside and showing the world that I am coping with life. The sad reality is I actually believed at the time that I was coping!


The best thing you can do for the bereaved person is let them express their anger, their sadness, their regrets, their fears.

Just be there for them, listen and acknowledge their pain. It is a gift you can give to them to allow them the space to open up their wounds, acknowledge their pain and start the healing process. What do you say? You want to help but you are lost for words. The best thing to say is simply the truth – tell the bereaved you are ‘lost for words’. You can respond by listening to what they say, for example if they say they are feeling ‘empty and so sad’ saying something like:

‘I am lost for words for you at this time, but please know that I am here for you, I can’t take your sadness away, I can’t make you feel complete again, but I can be here for you’.

In this example you have actually acknowledged their deep feelings of being empty and sad. Having their feelings acknowledged is the best thing you can actually do. This will open up for the bereaved to feel safe, safe to express their feelings.

It is only natural that you want to help make them feel better, if you attempt to try and make them feel better by saying things like:
‘Time will heal’,
‘You have your family there to support you’,
‘It could be worse, at least you had time to prepare’.
‘This is God’s will’
‘You have to focus on the positives’
‘I know how you feel’ (followed by ‘their’ story)

Whilst well intended these type of responses are not going to help the bereaved. They need to have their feelings acknowledged, accepted, without judgement. They don’t need you to ‘fix’ their world - you cannot fix their world. They just need their feelings to be understood. They just
need someone who will listen to them. Instead say things like:
‘I can only imagine your feelings of anger’,
‘You must be missing him (use the deceased name), I cannot imagine what it must be like for you’.

It truly gives the bereaved person a feeling of having their painful feelings acknowledged, validated and understood.

If you are unable to find the words that will best help them, then say nothing, just put your arm around them and hug them. If they are crying, the first thing people want to do is get them a ‘glass of water’ or ‘make them a cup of tea’ – they don’t need a drink, they just need to release their emotions. Stay with them, cry with them just allow them to cry and be with their emotions. Keep eye contact with them.

The worst thing you can do is not talk about the person who has died. Say the dead persons name, say it regularly, use the word dead, it seems to be the forbidden word, we use words like ‘passed over’, ‘gone to heaven’ the reality is they are dead, never to return. Allow the bereaved to tell their story, even if it means going over and over it. Often times the reality for them is difficult to comprehend so allowing them to talk about ‘what happened’ gives them a safe place to come to terms with the reality of what has happened. It helps them to start to make sense of their situation and allows for it to become real for them.

We think by not mentioning what has happened we will prevent the bereaved from getting upset, so we dare not mention their loved ones name. The bereaved are often aching inside – they are already upset, pretending that the death never happened or that their loved one never existed is the worst possible thing we can do to the bereaved. Don’t ever be afraid that you may ‘upset’ the bereaved if you mention the deceased name, if they cry, that is okay, allow them to cry this is a healthy way to release their emotions. If you are lost for words, put a gentle arm of comfort around them. The bereaved more than ever need lots of hugs.

Saying to the bereaved, ‘call me if I can do anything’ whilst your intentions are well meaning, the bereaved have difficulty getting out of bed each day, attending to basic needs, let alone picking up the phone and asking for help. It is the last thing they will usually do. Instead you are far better to make the effort and pick up the phone and just say to them ‘I am thinking of you’. Or drop a note in the mail with words letting them know you are thinking of them.

Gestures like this go a long way to help ease the isolation of grief.

Anniversaries, Birthdays, Christmas – special events in your life are the most difficult to cope with. Time and time again people around me failed (unintentionally) to acknowledge how I would be feeling. All of these occasions for me were painful, not times I wished to celebrate. Deep down I was so very sad, I longed for Bob to be there, and I missed him immensely. People didn’t even bring up his name at these times. People avoid talking about him, to have had someone say to me, ‘Eve this must be difficult for you that Bob is not here to share in this occasion’ - this acknowledgement would have meant so much to me. Just to have had some validation of my pain at these times would have really helped. Part of my problem was my ‘mask’ I presented to the world, this prevented people from probably recognising my deep emotions. You go through life celebrating milestones but deep down there is this sadness that he is not here to share it with you.

One of the worst things to say is that ‘children get over things quickly’ – nothing can be further from the truth. Children don’t get over the loss of someone close, particularly in the case of a parent dying.

The ramifications can manifest years later in a child’s life. They go through life with their peers constantly making reference to their ‘Dad’s’. Schools make a celebration of Fathers Day, Mothers Day – for children who have lost either a mother or a father, these occasions become a painful reminder to children of what they have lost in their life. The day of my daughter’s wedding, was a painful reminder that her Dad was not there to give her away on her wedding day and cut deeply for her, how I ached for her grief on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life. Milestones throughout the children’s lives were constantly tared with this deep pain of him not being there to share in their joys and in their sorrows. It makes me very angry when people dismiss the effect that grief has on children. It impacts them for the rest of their lives.

I don’t believe you ever really ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one, you learn to live with your loss, and you are forever changed. You never go back to being the same person you were, and by that I mean your perceptions of the world change depending upon how you have processed your grief. Time does heal or rather the intensity of your grief no longer engulfs you so randomly and so frequently in your day to day life. Your life changes forever and with that comes enormous courage to surrender, adjust and accept the changes or, intense sadness, denial and bitterness that could destroy your sense of peace and well being.

Whether you have suffered the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, a loss of a relationship, bankruptcy, whatever your loss, it is a loss and with that comes a range of emotions to deal with. It is a part of your life that has gone forever. It means your life will never be the same again. Coping with the changes is difficult, but firstly acknowledgement of your feelings without judgement will allow for healing to take place. Having someone there as support, or several people around to talk to is a tremendous help in dealing with the loss that you have experienced.

Our  Thanks and Appreciation to Yvonne for her permission to reprint this material here.


Last modified on Saturday, 07 November 2015 06:46