The Journey Through Grief

Part Four

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This is "Part Four" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to "Part Five".

Listening for Needs 


As we move towards helping and caring for those in their grieving process, we must continue to build our grief care principals on positive values. Many times we think we need to respond to someone suffering a loss even though an invitation has not been issued by them for our help and assistance. The best help is received by those who desire it. When asked, this can most effectively be accomplished by allowing your role to be defined by the person experiencing grief.

There are a couple of good ways to determine the needs of someone experiencing grief. It can be best done verbally. However some caregivers find that a printed questionnaire works fine if the person in grief is willing to acknowledge their need for a caring relationship and express their true needs in the grieving process.  A “needs list” like the one below may help direct your efforts and eliminate many frustrating moments during the grief care experience by learning what their greatest needs in the grief process truly are.

Emotional Concerns These are generally the most common concerns of the griever. This is because in intense grief situations such as the death of a loved one, or a divorce, the battery of emotions that the griever is experiencing is not familiar to them in their normal daily life. We as caregivers should be able to help them identify what anger, frustration, sadness and even despair are, and why they may be experiencing them as separate emotions and in combination.

Family Issues It is said that the very best and the very worst of any given family shows up for weddings and funerals. Often family conflicts and disunity factors are greatly amplified at funerals, and/or during the grieving process. Family dynamics can be very difficult for the person afflicted by grief to comprehend and respond to. This is where we as caregivers can assist in not only stimulating effective and properly motivated communications, but also help interpret from a non biased position and accurately communicate the various other emotional and grief expressions in the family to the one we are assisting.

Financial and Legal Issues  This area of need is often the most protected and private area for anyone outside the family to be involved with. As caregivers it is often better to make highly qualified referrals to those professionally trained people who can assist the griever in financial issues such as taxes, debts, wills, investments and other future expenses. If you do not have adequate credentials to specifically assist someone in these areas, the only ethical option is to refer them to someone who is qualified for the tasks needed to be accomplished.  

Spiritual Issues Like financial and legal issues, this may be a very personal and private area of the griever’s life. However, sometimes desperate people in grief will reach out to those whom they perceive might have some spiritual or religious values working in their lives. Often they simply need small amounts of encouragement to become reconnected to their faith, their beliefs, their personal and preferred religious affiliations, or even God. Many times this is simply the act of giving them permission to re-connect, agreeing that this is a need in their life, or making a phone call to a religious leader.

Social Issues These issues are generally dealt with more at the middle or toward the end of a person’s journey through grief. They involve making decisions about who they should spend time with and what environments will be the safest and most comfortable. Often they are seeking direction about how much time they should spend with people that may remind them of their loss. 

Goal Setting This area of need is a genuine practical tool in the practice of grief care. If a griever is to return to a healthy progressive life, there must be a focus on the future. From this focus may come concerns about jobs, different residency and the formulation of new and/or necessary relationships for future issues and achievements.

Once we obtain adequate answers to the these questions from the griever, we as caregivers should be able to formulate a plan of care that will be most effective to help the griever walk through the grief process knowing that they are being assisted in the fulfillment of their needs along the journey. This is accomplished by being able to identify what areas the person seeking help in is truly desiring or needing it.

Not all grievers have needs in all of the previously discussed  categories. Some grievers will only have deep concerns in one or two areas of need. We must be careful to not read more into their responses than are actually given to us when we ask. Just because we may specialize in guiding people along the social interaction part of their grief doesn’t mean we have to make sure they are doing well in that arena of need. They may do very well socially with other people and situations through their grieving process and fail miserably at interacting with their immediate family.

We should also avoid “need-meeting-overkill”. One night I sat in the kitchen of an elderly woman’s house shortly after her husband had died in the next room. While the funeral directors were taking her husband out to the hearse, she asked me to sit down with her in the kitchen. After a brief conversation I came to find out that her husband had always taken care of writing the checks and paying the bills. She asked me to show her how to fill in a blank check properly, and how to find out through her bank how much money was in the account.

I simply showed her how to put the right numbers and words in the right places of a check, letting her write on the actual check itself. Then I looked up the phone number of her bank and told her to contact her bank in the morning with her bank account number and social security number available when she called them. I didn’t sort through her bills and help her organize a system to go through each week or each month. She didn’t ask me to help her in that regard. She asked me how to properly fill in a check. I didn’t call the bank for her because she didn’t ask me to do that for her. Her need for financial help was very simple. She needed to know how to properly fill in a check and how obtain a balance on her account.

By the time I left an hour later she expressed her thanks personally to me and appeared to be content with the ability to handle dispersing funds on her own as she needed to after learning how to properly fill in a check. If I had tried to do any more for her I probably would have impaired the opportunity for her to ask for help in other areas of need.   

The vast majority of people experiencing a fresh or initial grief experience just need a good listener. Listening is easy. You don’t have to be their “superhero” and you don’t need to be a fancy linguist with a wealth of professional advice to give them. It may only cost you a little time listening to them to be of great benefit to them. Because of their heightened emotions, many times those in grieving situations seem to have a keen sense of who is really listening to them and who is simply patronizing them. We must be genuine caregivers with a sincere listening attitude.

Most people are not looking for a precise list of instructions to help them in their grief process. Instead, they may respond better to a story or example that you share with them from your own life or someone else you have met. If you are going to share an example of someone or something that there is any chance that they may know or  come in contact with personally, be sure to disguise names, places and dates well enough so as to protect the privacy of the person or situation you are describing in your example or story. Sometimes you may need to remind them of a story or personal example more than once in the process of your caregiving. Know your stories and illustrations well enough to repeat them accurately if their grief care situations warrant it.         

Most people that seek out a caregiver or counselor in their grief are primarily looking for some form of acceptance. Since they are generally full of emotions and feelings, the simple need to expel them verbally is usually the most important aspect of their sharing with a caregiver. A non biased genuine listener may do them more good in some circumstances, than the best available psychotherapist.

We as caregivers often think we must have all the answers to everyone’s problems. If someone asks a difficult question that we have no response or insight on, it is always better to say “I don’t know” than to try and generate a weak or useless response for the sake of looking helpful, intellectual or professional. This is why it is always good to have a referral list available when the need crosses your practical or professional boundaries. Knowing your limits and acknowledging other specialists who can help fulfill these needs in grief will best enable the grieving person to find help and some resolution to their grief.

Central Institute for Educational Advancement
P.O. Box 750491 Dayton, Ohio 45475-0491