Good Grief: Be Kind to Others

As a Notary Public with an active practice in Wills and Estates, I see clients who have recently lost their partners or are dealing with the death of a family member or friend.

Death is not the only reason for grief. It can be triggered by other life events such as the breakdown, loss, or change in a marriage or a family relationship, the loss of a job, or the passing of a pet.

When a person walks through my office door, I can usually tell by the individual’s demeanor or the documents we are doing that the client has had a loss, the trigger for a loss, or the person is experiencing some degree of grief. I take a moment to communicate with the person to recognize the loss.

Communicating with my clients, or with anyone in grief, is not a complex act. A stranger can communicate effectively with a person in grief without knowing the individual or the circumstance.

When dealing with a grieving person, I find that sincerity and simplicity of thought are the actions that matter most. I always stress that people should be kind to themselves and never apologize for the inescapable grief that we humans can experience. 

Here are some general guidelines for communicating that apply to almost any situation whether or not you know the person: 

  • If you don’t know what to say, say just that. “I am at a loss for words. I really don’t know how to express myself or what to say. I am so sorry for the death of... . ”
  • Just reach out. Don’t let your own fears—of not knowing what to say or intruding or seeing someone in heartbreak—hold you back. Whatever you do, your sincerity and caring is what matters. It will shine through.
  • Just listen. Listening is the most important part of the communicating process. Don’t be afraid to listen to someone in tears or anger. You may find you share some laughter together along the path. Throughout the conversation, confirm what you have heard, such as, “You must have been so shocked.”
  • Be patient. Grief is a process of holistic healing. Often a grieving person needs to adapt to a whole new day-to-day personal culture and routine. • Don’t try to fix it. You cannot. The grieving person knows it cannot get fixed.
  • Asking “How are you doing?” can be a burden for a grieving person to answer. Questions are good but unless you truly want to know and you are a safe person for the grieving person to answer honestly, steer clear of that question.
  • If someone is having a bad day, do not take it personally. Do not judge. Accept and respect the person’s expression of grief in the moment. His or her moods, feelings, and energy levels will fluctuate and change—you will not see them all.
  • Practice a random act of kindness and help with a task or chore. If you offer to help, follow through. Don’t wait to be asked. The grieving person’s response to a generic, open-ended question such as, “let me know what I can do” may be a challenge. Instead, tell the person you are available on Thursday, from 1 to 3 pm, and that you want to help with an errand, chore, or task. Gauge the response to your timing and his or her interest level.
  • Manage your own expectations about communicating. When leaving a phone message, let the person know you don’t need a response. You are just thinking of him or her and you will call again. And then call again.

In my Notary practice, I certify copies of death certificates as a courtesy. When arriving in my office, most people do not expect that gesture. I tell them I have been through some challenging deaths and it is my small way of giving back; their shock turns quickly to relief and gratitude.

Not only are grieving families propelled into a whirlwind of practical activity plus a lot of calls and communications for about a month, they find there are a lot of unexpected expenses. And they are exhausted.

With the complementary service and taking the time to be aware, ask, and listen, being personally engaged and interested in my client is truly the simplest of communicating. Through sincerity and kindness by such small gestures, I am afforded the privilege of trust and heartfelt two-way communicating with my client.

If there is one single message to give, it is simply to be kind to others.

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Beverly Carter is BC Notary based in Victoria, BC. 


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