I don’t know what I can do or say to somebody who has just experienced the loss of a loved one?

A friend asked this question when she found out that an ex-classmate’s spouse had died from an unfortunate accident at home.

Know that people show their grief in different ways. How much they show it does not necessarily equate to their level of grief or sorrow. You would not want to make a faux pas by saying something like “Oh. You look pretty well for someone who just lost her father.” or “You must be feeling relieved of your burden now.” So, how can you show your concern appropriately? Well, here are 3 things you can do to show your care and concern for a friend or colleague, even if you are not a trained mental health professional.

  1. It is very normal to feel unsure of what to say, so there is no need to feel like you must say something. Your presence already means something. If you are not that close to the bereaved person, it is fine to say something honest like “I don’t really know what to say at this moment, but I am here. If you need anything, just let me know.” If you are close to the bereaved person, give a warm hug. If you are close to the deceased as well, it is perfectly fine to weep or cry together.
  2. Offer practical help. People in bereavement often have to deal with many aspects of the post-death arrangements such as planning the details of a funeral, attending to religious rites, paperwork etc. and may neglect their own needs. Check if they need help to buy dinner for the week. Maybe you can rope in a group of friends and take turns to do that. Check if they need help to get some groceries. If they have dependants like young children or aged parents, ask if they need help with babysitting, sending them to school or to medical appointments. If they have a domestic helper at home, that probably helps their situation but there is no harm checking in, since the helper might also be feeling down or a bit lost, if there is a lack of direction.
  3. Typically, the hardest part of grief takes place only after the busy-ness of the funeral and cremation/burial is over, when most people feel like life should be “back to normal”. Do not try to avoid contact for fear of feeling awkward or triggering emotions. On the 1-month, 2-month and/or 3-month anniversary of the death, drop a gentle message to see how they are doing. You may want to ask them out for a meal, offer to accompany them on an errand or perhaps take a walk together at a nature spot. Nature always has a way of refreshing a tired soul.

Suitable for: Adults

Difficulty level: Moderate

How to make my child happier?

I was chatting with someone who lamented sadly to me one day, “I asked my son to rate his happiness on a scale of 1 to 10, and he said 4. Reasons were – always getting scolded, coping with school is so hard… And I just felt that childhood should not be one big, long struggle all the time… so many hours a day.” Does this sound like your child too?

Let’s take the ‘happiness scale’ one step further. My suggestion to her is this – take a ‘happiness scale’ rating every few days, or even every day. The next time he gives a low rating of 4 again, ask him one question, “What is the one thing we can do right now to increase it to 5?” Not to increase it to 8, 9, or 10, since that might cause him to be very excited and ask for the moon! But to increase by 1 on the scale.

There are two aims for this. Firstly, to see that it does not take much to make yourself feel a little better. Secondly, to see that while you do not have control over the external environment or other people (e.g. make them scold you less), you can still do something for yourself.

Suitable for: Aged 5 and above

Difficulty level: Easy