Helping Others During Bereavement
originally posted in our "Journey Bereavement Newsletter" June 2022
One of the issues with bereaved people is often “What do I do now?” The loss of close family members or even close friends can send us into a tailspin of confusion about how to go forward from here and what to do when we feel we have no more tears left to cry. Recognizing the fragile nature of life can hurt tremendously, and it can sometimes make us reevaluate our priorities.
Undoubtedly, the inward work of bereavement must be completed in order to effectively process a significant loss. A healthy process may incorporate some community mourning (funerals and memorial services are important for sharing our grief communally). Still, much of the grief work is done internally and can sometimes feel very isolating. Feeling mired in our personal pain is natural after a significant loss, but getting stuck there for too long can become a problem that may only make us lonelier and more depressed in the long run.
This is why bereaved people can benefit from reaching out to help others even at times when their grief still challenges them.
Helping others can be one of the most important things we can do. We can support those around us and, in turn, help ourselves in sharing grief.
Here are some of the benefits that bereaved people can experience in helping others:
1) It can help us gain a sense of purpose.
For those who are utterly bewildered by their enormous loss, reaching out to others in need can make life feel worth living again. We all need to feel valuable and necessary, and it can be hard to feel that way if you’ve lost one of the people who made you feel the most valued and needed. But many others would benefit from your care and concern; reaching out to them can help you feel appreciated and give you a renewed sense of purpose. Furthermore, people who do good things for others may forgive themselves for mistakes and feel better about themselves.
2) It can help with overcoming loneliness.
People who are helping others tend not to be as lonely because they develop a sense of community. Being consistently isolated from others can contribute to depression and anxiety, contributing to poor overall health. Helen Riess, M.D., author of The Empathy Effect, explains, “…we are hardwired to understand other people.” Riess concludes that actively engaging in empathy toward others can help combat the negative effects of seclusion and loneliness.
3) It can help give us perspective and gratitude for the things we have.
We all face losses in this life and sometimes paralyzing ones. But if we spend all our time concentrating on our heartaches, they can become huge and cumbersome to the point of feeling insurmountable.
Helping others who face their own complex challenges can result in developing more gratitude for the blessings we have in our lives. Feeling grateful can strengthen overall feelings of emotional wellness and joy.
Five years ago, I started at Valor HospiceCare as a volunteer with a heart for helping others. In my case, my gratitude to God for helping me through my own grief (the death of my first wife from health complications) fueled my passion for helping others. I would never have guessed that my painful grief journey would one day be transformed into a rewarding career as a bereavement professional. I stand as a personal witness to the truth that, in helping others, you can help yourself as well. Remember the ancient Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
May you find the courage to take that first tentative but extraordinary step.
Tyler Henry, M.A. Bereavement Care Coordinator
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