Effective Communication Skills During Grief and Mourning Following a Family Or Relationship Death

Staying Calm When Disaster Strikes

My mom called me that her husband (my Stepdad) was about to pass away. This is what she had heard from the doctor at the emergency room. (He did a few days later.) She was distraught as you can imagine and needing support. As I heard this news, I also lost my calm. It was painful to hear, also confusing, what am I going to do for her? How can I fix her?

We learn in Proactive Communication that fixing is not helpful, the focus in fixing is for me, to dilute the pain I feel. I was in a lot of pain and confusion seeing my mom in pain, so I want to fix her with suggestions, sympathy, and education. What my mom really wanted was to be understood how difficult a time this is for her, for an empathic connection. I realized I was going into an old way of communicating and stopped myself. I went from wanting to fix her into offering self empathy to myself.

Are you surprised? Remember in the airplane the oxygen mask technique, take care of yourself and give yourself oxygen first, then help the others. Same thing in my situation, I needed to become calm, functional and balanced instead of making decisions in a dysfunctional state. I gave myself first aid empathy and was then able to offer the understanding and calm that my mom needed. No way I could have done this in a dysfunctional state.

So before you start helping others or making decisions, become calm and balanced. Decisions and suggestions will be easier and more effective. Here are the steps for first aid empathy. It will be helpful to write this out.

1: Express all your judgments, all the shoulds from the situation. This is a time to be honest and let everything you are thinking negative out. Don’t worry, we will go beyond this in a moment. It can be a paragraph or pages.

2: As you write if any emotions develop, write them down. Feelings may be sadness, grief, lonely,exhausted, etc.

3: Also write any values or needs that are not being met. This step is the healing step as you identify the values, The emotional pain will disappear. It will help you to become calmer so you can be supportive. We call it a sweet sadness. You will want to sigh at this point. It is a good sign to sigh as you are releasing the grief. It is also the beginning of your mourning period.

Our values are important to identify as they are life energy, our spirit. During mourning we want to identify these values as it gives us an understanding why our energy level is low. When someone passes away the values that they met also leaves. We must grieve these needs or values. Some of these values are love, security, understanding, integrity. As you do this exercise you will feel the energy come back, all by identifying these values. Mourning is a value that we all have and this step must be processed. It could take a few days or a few years. But whenever you have depressed feelings, identify the needs that are not being met.

In a way we are celebrating this passing as we list the values that they met of ours. We try to be grateful and we feel a sweet sadness, not a depressed sadness. For example my stepdad who was in a concentration camp and who loved me as his own son met many needs for me as I was growing up. He met values of integrity, strength, love for my mom and me, trust, stability, many many needs. As I list these needs I again feel that sweet sadness and now more energy.

This is a powerful technique to regain the energy needed to help others through their grief. You may ask the grieving what needs this person met to them or even try to guess for them. Watch their energy appear as they honor this person.