Grief is an intensely personal experience, with each of us having to find our own way to get through the worst days. There are, of course, methods recommended to help us. For some, formal counselling can provide us with a valuable sounding board and an expert to provide coping mechanisms. For others there’s comfort to be found in our families. However, one strategy that is too often overlooked is kindness.
Kindness, applied in a variety of ways, can not only be of comfort to others — it can act as a salve for our own pain. But it can be difficult to know quite where to apply kindness, particularly at a time when we’re suffering. We’re going to take a look at a few key areas in which to place your energy, along with some suggested activities.
Funerals can often be an overwhelming prospect. Many of us have little expertise in their arrangement, not to mention the fact that they tend to be costly affairs. At a time when grief is still fresh, being expected to enter into administrative activities can quickly become stressful and confusing for the immediate family of the deceased. This is also an area in which practical acts of kindness can help provide the family with space to experience their own grief, and help your own by directing your energies in a positive way. .
If you have financial expertise, or a head for numbers, assisting with planning for funeral costs can be valuable. While the key decisions — such as the choices between burial and cremation — are deeply personal and should be the choice of the immediate family, you can help research and outline cost effective strategies which also apply their wishes. If the budget is particularly tight, it may be prudent to gently introduce them to the idea of direct burial or cremation, which foregoes viewings but can significantly reduce the costs involved.
When offering to lend a hand with funeral arrangements, it’s important to understand that this ritual has an important role to play in the immediate family’s grieving process. The efforts they put into arranging a fitting tribute can help reflect the place their loved one held in their lives. Therefore, it’s wise and respectful to tread lightly. Don’t assume to take over aspects of arrangements. Approach in a manner that makes it clear you would like to help them achieve their goals for the funeral, and how you might be able to do this; but also allow them the space to refuse this if they feel it might be intrusive.
Memorialisation through Kindness
Random acts of kindness are something of a buzz phrase of late, but they can have an important role to play in grief. These acts embody the meaning you attribute to them, and by connecting these acts to your memory of the deceased, you can undertake them in a way that would have also been meaningful to them.
Some approaches can include:
- Paying it forward. Buying coffee for the next person in the queue at the deceased’s favourite coffee establishment.
- Conservation. Spend a couple of hours alone or in a group cleaning their favorite stretch of beach or green area.
- Creativity. Create a music playlist to share among friends with their favorite music, or create a photo album with pictures of their favorite images and memories.
- Gifting. Take a moment to source a meaningful gift for a close friend of your loved one. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary; but make it relevant to the relationship they shared. Personalized gifts can help memorialize their friendship with fondness and even humor.
- Donations. Perhaps to memorialize a child or parent, during the holidays make toy and clothing donations to children’s charities.
- Helping those in need. Volunteer your time every so often to causes that were close to them, offer a helping hand to a stranger at the store in the way that you know your loved one would appreciate.
- Community engagement. Tie your random acts of kindness to the interests of the deceased. If they enjoyed gardening, spend some time working at a community garden or mowing the lawn of a neighbor. If they were a sports fan, offer a couple of hours per week to help coach a local kids sports team. If they were a baker, bake some cookies for your office.
Increasingly, random acts undertaken in memorial of a loved one have been accompanied by a card. These cards often provide a little bit of information about who the deceased was, what kind of person they were, and why this random act would be important to them. This can help to solidify the idea for both yourself and the recipient that these acts have a deeper meaning than simple generosity, and can open up conversations that can also help you through the grieving process.
Being Kind to Yourself
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that kindness at a time of grief shouldn’t always be outward-looking. Too often, when we are applying acts of generosity and assistance we are entirely focused on how these can be applied to others. While this can be an honorable trait, by neglecting to also devote time for kindness to ourselves, we are deprived of important space to grieve and the opportunity to heal.
A regular focus on self-care is a key act of personal kindness that can help you through the grieving process. A couple of times each day, be sure to exercise mindfulness; take a quiet moment to check in with yourself, to honestly examine how you are coping, how your body and mind are feeling. Use this time to remind yourself that you are not expected to be superhuman, immune to the effects of the death of a loved one; exercise self-compassion.
Kindness cannot heal all wounds, and it can never cure the pain we feel at the loss of someone we were close to. However, it can provide a positive focus through which to remember the influence they had upon our lives and the lives of those around them. Whether this is in the immediate aftermath of the death, as frequent random acts, or simply taking time for ourselves, kindness can help us more effectively experience grief, and use it to do some good in the world.