Handbook for Mortals : Enduring Loss : Listening

Grief counselors recommend empathy as the key to helping the bereaved. Sympathetic approaches or those that try to identify with the bereaved may miss the mark. Instead, try to understand the other person's experience without forcing meaning on it. If someone wants to share her stories with you, even stories that you have heard a million times, listening will be a great gift. You will bear witness to her life, to things that gave her pleasure, to her sorrows, fears, regrets. There are a few things to remember as you do this, but most especially:

  • Listen
  • Do not judge the other person
  • Show compassion -- offer a caress, if itís wanted, or a shoulder to cry on
  • Be supportive and offer comfort, even if this is simply by being silent

Courtesy of Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., of the Center for Loss and Life Transitions

"... He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died.... He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the country.... And he wants to talk about her too.... Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament...."

-- Anton Chekhov, from Misery.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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