Listen to your grieving cousin with compassion.

Consoling a Cousin Who Lost Her Husband

by C. Giles

It can be difficult to know how to console a grieving relative. When a loved one dies, the bereaved person typically goes through a range of difficult emotions, from anger and confusion to depression and guilt. It's impossible to take away your cousin's pain, but by letting her know you are there for her, you can offer some valuable support.

1. Understand the Grieving Process

If you have a good understanding of the typical grieving process, you'll be a better support to your cousin. Firstly, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Most people go through stages of denial, anger, depression and acceptance, however these may be in any order and often a particular stage is repeated, says therapist Kate Evans in the article "8 Tips to Console a Grieving Friend," for Psych Central. Your cousin won't get over her grief in a set length of time, warns Evans, and every person's response to grief is different, depending on factors including the cause of death, the grieving person's character and previous experience of death, whether she has a solid support network and her relationship with the deceased person.

2. Be There

You may not know what to say or do to help your cousin feel better, and that's okay, says psychotherapist Jeanne Segal in the article "Supporting a Grieving Person," for HelpGuide.org. Just being there for your cousin can make a real difference and help reduce the feelings of isolation that can exacerbate the pain of her loss. Don't just be there in the days immediately following the bereavement, advises Evans. Continue to be a presence in your cousin's life for the following weeks and months. Drop in on her a couple of times a week. Call her regularly for a chat. Invite her to social events. If she has children, invite them to spend time with your children. She may not accept your invitations, but she will appreciate the fact that you care.

3. Talk it Out -- Or Not

Talking about the deceased and the circumstances leading to the bereavement may elicit displays of emotion from your cousin, but it won't make her feel any worse. In fact, an article from Harvard Health Publications points out that reminiscing may provide her with some comfort. Your cousin won't want to forget about the person she lost, so never make her feel that mentioning him is off-limits. If she starts talking about the deceased, ask sensitive questions to encourage her to express her feelings, such as "How do you feel?" or "Do you want to talk about it some more?" However, if your cousin is more comfortable to sit in silence, respect that. Don't feel obliged to make conversation, advises Segal. Reassuring eye contact, a squeeze of the hand or a warm embrace can be just as comforting as words.

4. Offer Practical Help

A grieving person may feel overwhelmed by even the most basic daily tasks. Help your cousin in practical ways, such as running errands, picking up groceries, taking phone calls, assisting with paperwork, doing housework, minding her children or accompanying her to a support meeting. If her husband was the main wage earner, she may need help finding a job, or she may need help finding affordable child care. Knowing she can depend on you will offer your cousin consolation during this difficult time. Your cousin may not ask for your help, says Segal, so it may be up to you to take the initiative.

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