Updated: Sep 16
News of High School shootings and other devastating events are becoming all too common. Tragedies like these need to be handled delicately.
Listening is probably the most important thing you can do is be supportive. Let the bereaved express their feelings freely, whether it's anger, sorrow, or bewilderment. Listen without prejudice. Understand they may not want your opinion or point of view right now. They may just need a shoulder to cry on. Listen with gentleness, acceptance and understanding.
Pay attention to the bereaved's basic needs. Make sure they are able to get some sleep, have meals, and take care of their personal hygiene. Avoid saying things like, "if there's anything I can do, just let me know." The bereaved are having a hard time focusing their thoughts, and they won't be able to think of "what you can do." Instead, give the family a list of duties you are willing to do during their time of mourning. They will need to perform certain painful functions such as getting certified copies of the death certificates or taking the deceased's name off of all accounts.
You may want to give them a gift. Their home will be filled with guests for several weeks, so an offering of food is always welcome. Organize a schedule with the neighbors so that the family always has food in their home and enough space to store it. They will need to write notes; a gift of cards and stamps is helpful. Warm pajamas or a comforting shawl or blanket can be a most welcome gift. A journal to record their feelings or a book about coping with grief may also be appropriate even if they don't use those items right away. Remember that during this time, life needs to remain as simple and serene as possible for the bereaved. Taking care of a new plant or reheating a complicated casserole may be more than they want to handle.
As time goes on, the community will begin to heal in a number of ways. Some people may want to establish a charitable event in honor of the deceased. Others may find planting a tree or creating a lasting memorial for the deceased can aid in the healing process. The community may want to step into the role of averting similar tragedies through frequent safety programs.
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatric and a researcher. He is the CEO of Charak Center for Health and Wellness, an outpatient mental health and substance abuse center. For more information, or if you would like to make an appointment, please check out our website at charakcenter.org