01/19/2011 09:09 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Grieving 101: Are You Sure You Know How to Support Those You Love Who Mourn?

Nobody, in their right mind, wants to need, much less read up on this subject. It behooves you to do so, however, if you care about those you love. Likewise, let it be added, that the issue of death is not particulary light fare for the writer, either. Nonetheless, necessity prevails. I have received more private emails from HuffPost readers since last week's blog, than ever before regarding this topic. A number of them have come directly from family members and friends of the slain in Tucson. I am reminded of the words quoted from last week's blog:

"It's O.K. to do what you want to do,
Until it's time to do what you were meant to do."

Regardless how weary we might be from the discussion of dying, there is no rest from the necessitudes of life, grief being one of them. You may think you are heading out of town for a break, only to discover you've got a message on your voicemail that ushers in a complete change of plans. Most everything can be delayed. Neither death, nor grieving, however, are on that short list. Sudden, or, not so sudden, death has a way of cleaning the meat from the bones, stripping away the veneer of every day distractions, and clearing the calendar of anything less than imperative. When death comes to town, it is a less than welcome guest, as well as an unpaying renter.

It is we who pay the freight. There are, however, few investments that pay bigger dividends. If you care about human connection, (and it's in your best interest to do so, even with regard to improving your own well-being and longevity), then you just may need to spiff up your skill set for this part of the Life Curriculum. If you choose to stay in avoidance, your relationship with the person you love who mourns will suffer. So will your sense of self.

Truth Speak. Let me speak plainly. Nothing "pushes our buttons" like the "the Big D." Even though you and I may have years, or even decades left for traveling down our own path, you never know, do you? Even if you remain disease, or accident free, or now, even "shooting-spree -free" at your local Safeway store, you just never know. Neither do you know, nor can control, the fate of those you love. Whether you believe that there is a Divine Plan, or life's a crapshoot, it matters little when it comes to mortality. The day comes when each of us receives our traveling papers. We'd do well to "bone up" while we can.

Basics 101 for Supporting Those Who Mourn: The 15 "Musts" and Challenge:
  1. The most common reaction to death is avoidance. Death brings up our own mortality. Therefore, be gentle with those who mourn. Even if you do not know the deceased, be gentle with yourself. Toward that end, consider the following.
  2. Know that the funeral itself is not the hardest time for grief, as it is, at least, shared within community. Added to which, most who mourn are in shock.
  3. When grief hits hardest is after others have returned to ordinary life, and the grieving are left in silence. This is a vital time to make contact.
  4. Remove any "stopwatch" from your thinking. Reassure the grieving that the time it takes to mourn is an individual matter. There is no right or wrong way.
  5. Write down the date and year of the person who died. Put this on your calendar. Next year, and the one's that follow, nearly everyone will forget the anniversary. Don't you.
  6. Be the One Who Remembers. You don't have to make a big deal about the anniversary. Simply send a note, or make a brief phone call to say, "Just wanted you to know that I remember." This is all it takes. Believe me, most likely you will be the only person who does remember. This is gold to the person you love who knows loss. One caution: it is best to use a note, rather than e-mail, or a send a card. Think personal. Anyone can text. Take the time, and leave behind a trail of your love.
  7. Leave traces of your Love. Whether it's a phone conversation, a shared cup of coffee, or a walk through the park (nature works best, due to the stillness), be a presence of love remaining.
  8. Cultivate a Listening Heart. That's the term I've coined. Listen to your own instincts, and act on them. Simply become centered. Ask your deepest and highest self for help regarding your loved one. Ask what might be helpful that you could provide? Write down whatever comes to you. Do not question the wisdom. Act on what comes within 24 hours. Do not dawdle! Watch what happens. You will be amazed. Your Listening Heart knows what it is doing.
  9. Outlive the "Casserole Period." Long after the casseroles have come and gone, and the flowers have faded, your friend will be mourning. This is a crucial period. Most feel abandoned by life. Be the one who remembers. You don't have to bring a casserole, you know. Just ask your friend 'how's it going?' Your job is not to keep the conversational ball rolling. Your job is to be a presence. Period.
  10. Do not burden your grieving friend with your issues. This is not the time. Their job is not to give you directions. Nor is it to "bring up the subject." You both know that death is in the room. Simply contact the obvious with some truthful contact statement, such as:

    • "There are no words, are there?"
    • "Pretty quiet around here after all the activity, isn't it?"
    • "Hard to believe, isn't it?"
    • "Too much to take in, huh."
    • "Just want you to know I'm here. I don't know what I'm doing. Nobody can fix this hole. Maybe we can 'make it up,' as we go along, over time, together."
    • You get the idea. Speak in your own language.
  11. Don't be afraid to use the name of the person who died. The fact that you dare, that you remember the name, (especially over time when so much fades) can be invaluable.
  12. Jot down upcoming special days on your calendar, and make contact. For example, if your friend lost their child, Mother's Day or Father's Day will be difficult for them. Be a big person and remember. Acknowledge some special way they showed love to their child (or parent, sibling, friend, spouse or whoever died).
  13. Bring a Memory Book, early on. Tell your friend this is for anyone who is willing to record some memory that's dear to them. Now, your loved one has an additional record. It is healing for everyone, and may be revisited as needed any time.
  14. If you do not know the person who is grieving, but have been personally impacted by the death for some reason, consider outreach. For example, in the recent shooting spree, six people were killed. You may have been touched by some of their stories, maybe one in particular. What do you appreciate about this person's life? What have you learned from how they were living their life? Write this down. Consider it a gratitude message to the survivors. Yes, it takes a little research to find out how to reach the family, but it is not that difficult with the computer these days. Write down the impact of the life that was lost, which touches you, and send it to the survivor. A voice from out of the blue can be enormously helpful. Trust me.
  15. Remember to support yourself. Supporting others takes energy, don't kid yourself. Time to refuel. This works best in community, and there's oodles of evidence in neuroscience, to support this in terms of your own health and longevity. Toward that end, consider the following love project this year, and pass it on, won't you?

Genesis of this Love Project. As some of you know, following the death of my cousin, I went on my own Intentions Retreat. Before doing so, however, one terrific reader, by the name of Lawson, agreed to take my challenge for this coming year. We are "in." How about you? Below is the challenge for those willing to play together. It would be fun to practice before whatever's coming down the pike:

How about this: we make a deal to
Live like there is no tomorrow,
Laugh like the supply of it will never end,
Love without concerns for what returns,
Discover what's on the other side of new doors,
Collaborate on what creates goodness,
Refuse participation in what causes injury,
Rejoice in what needs celebration,
Kneel to what is bigger than our plan,
Give thanks for Grace we did not bring about."
I'm in. Lawson's in. Are you?

Now, your turn. You're a "giver." I get it. Otherwise, you would not be here. So, I'm asking you: what is the one thing you could do this year which would best refuel you? I'm listening...

For more, see For updates, contact me at, or dr.carabarker@gmail to save time, click on Become a Fan. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." I've got a great idea for those of you who are willing to step out on the playing field and have an amazing time. Stay tuned!