When someone dies with an addiction, the grieving process can be difficult for those who shut that person down. It can evoke feelings of intense guilt, hurt, anger, and regret when the loved one has difficulty coming to terms with what “could have been done” to prevent death.
Supporting a grieving friend or family member can be almost as difficult. Knowing what to say – or, more importantly, what not to say – is not always easy and can often leave you speechless.
How to provide support
When someone experiences the death of a loved one with an addiction, the feeling that the person will suffer will be largely one of conflict..While there are happy memories to share, there can be just as many traumatic ones that the person would rather forget.
What makes the situation all the more difficult is the cultural tradition, according to which people should not “speak badly of the dead”. Because of this, people often speak generally or not at all. This creates a sense of isolation that can only deepen a person’s despair.
To overcome this, try to provide assistance in the following ways:
- Be physically present as often as possible and keep in touch regularly by phone.
- Reply to emails immediately when they reach out to you.
Actively listen and look the person in the eye as you communicate. Don’t be distracted or appear disinterested...
- Let the person feel what they are feeling. Accept those who feel lacking in judgment and avoid reacting with disapproval or even uncertainty.
- Stand around the house and be available for errands. However, avoid any reaction that can be considered critical. A deeply grieving person often leaves daily tasks behind. Help out, but do it happily.
- Try not to take it personally if the person hits you. When you need to break free, do it kindly and let the person know that in a day or so you will be followed up.
When you say you will follow up Do it. Failure to do so may indicate that you are dropping that person or are no longer interested.
What not to say
When an addict dies, loved ones often struggle with shame or fear that people will judge them for not doing enough..These emotions are often right on the surface, so you must do whatever you can to avoid touching these emotional landmines.
To do this, you need to be extra careful not only about what you say but also how you say it. Among the considerations:
- Avoid being critical in any way..Even questions like “When was the last time you saw him?” can be interpreted as “Why weren’t you there?” if you are not careful.
- Never criticize the addict or provide a summary of why he or she may have become addicted. (“She was always such a lonely girl.”)
- Don’t suggest how you want a person to feel, and don’t even suggest understanding how that person is feeling. Rather, express your condolences; Don’t do it about you...
- Avoid platitudes like “He’s in a better place now.” Do not assume that a person shares your religious or spiritual beliefs. Even when it does, such platitudes signal the end of a conversation rather than the beginning.
- Do not give unsolicited advice even if you are trying to help. It gives the impression that instead of providing support, you are taking over. Only give advice when asked by the grieving person.
Don’t be still
Do not do it Not say something. While situations like this can be difficult, using silence to communicate your discomfort only makes things worse. Better to apologize for not having the right words than not to say anything at all. If anything, offer to be there if the person wants to speak. Keep the door open.
While saying something and letting the person know that you care is important, don’t fill the air with words. People in a tense situation often speak incessantly out of discomfort or fear. When you are in a one-on-one situation with someone who is grieving, sometimes it is better to accept the silence. Rather, grab that person’s hand. The simple act can often say more than any words in the world.