PEOPLE: Building a silent system of support for grief-stricken

PEOPLE: Building a silent system of support for grief-stricken

SURREY — Grievers don’t need comfort, they need quiet.

Therapist Susan Dahlgren owns a private practice in Surrey and specializes in grief and loss counselling. Dahlgren said a major misconception when dealing with grief is to overload that person with words of false motivation when instead, you should just listen.

"People make comments like ‘you’re so strong’, ‘you’re presenting yourself well’ or ‘you seem fine’, so people start to suppress their true feelings for the sake of keeping up this façade of emotional encouragement," explained Dahlgren.

Dahlgren said the majority of the people she sees in her office talk about feeling isolated within their own loss, despite having strong connectors of support from family and friends.

"They just need to talk about how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing, without comment from other people. They don’t need reassurance, they need silence," Dahlgren said.

It connects back to the workplace where Dahlgren feels that restrictions on interpersonal relationships and communication keep feelings bottled up.

"There’s this social norm where people ask you, ‘How are you?’ and people never expect you to answer truthfully. They’re looking for you to respond with ‘I’m fine.’" According to Dahlgren, what people can do if they want to help is to take initiative and offer specific tasks they can do as those dealing with grief often lack the energy to ask themselves or they feel like they’re a burden.

"Don’t wait for someone who is grieving to make a plea for help, offer something specific you can follow through with immediately," Dahlgren suggested.

She also advised that if you are offering to help someone who is grieving, to ensure that your task is scheduled and consistent as grievers often feel their lives are in constant disarray.

Having a reliable system they can trust will help get their mind on track and put their lives together.

Also, Dahlgren said that if you offer support, you need to ensure you can provide it over the long-term.

She explained that the initial two to three weeks of grief are always the most overwhelming as people crowd them with attention and condolences. But after this grace period is over people often move back to their own lives and their own responsibilities while the grieving period still continues.

"People don’t want to feel like their issues or problems have been forgotten."

Dahlgren recalled a similar time in her early 20s when she felt her issues dealing with depression and poor self-esteem were ignored. After talking to her university’s counsellor when she was 22, Dahlgren said that therapy became an "essential part" of her life.

"Therapy has shown me how to resolve things well, challenge confusion, challenge acceptance, express emotions, and learn new ways of relating to my family, friends and partners," she said.

Her most important message for those who are grieving is that things will never be normal again – but that’s OK.

"A lot of people fear therapy because they feel like if they solve their grief that that means their grief or sadness for their loved ones will be forgotten," she said. "That’s not true. You can still feel joyful, it’s just going to be a different kind of happiness or joy and you’re allowed to feel that."