Communicating around death and dying

Our dealing mechanisms are varied and the importance of friends and family through these times can’t be undervalued. What Soft Skills are required when someone you know is dealing with death.

Clearly we all want to be inspired and have positive outlooks, I also believe strongly in positive thinking brings positive outcomes. I have personally experienced the changes brought about by altering my perspective and focusing my thinking on positives rather than negatives. However I also believe that a lot of people promote temporary fixes and therefore temporary happiness. Similar to the latest weight loss program; fast and easy rarely work. I believe Soft Skills play a massive role in achieving real and permanent change as they provide techniques and perspectives that will improve our immediate and wider environments.

8th Dec 2010 at the age of 57 my father passed away from metastatic melanoma. What started as skin cancer spread to become 11 tumours in his brain. I was standing next to him when he took his final breath and today, just over a year on, I am pretty sure I haven’t fully made sense of it all yet. How quickly perspectives changed in the 4 odd months from diagnosis to death.

I remember a lot of people remarked on how young he was, how unfortunate it was to be taken. But a few years back a friend lost her battle with cancer at 40, and more recently a relative my age passed. And others I know who have lost children; a teenager to suicide and a healthy boy during childbirth.
The other thing that has really struck me through these experiences is the enormous extremes in how people deal with death and dying. So my first and most important point is that everyone deals with it differently and there is no right or wrong. It’s a journey which will take some people a short time and others a long time but generally each on different paths. Some people act as though everything is fine, others as though the world ended and it’s your fault. Even if you can’t understand why someone is thinking, saying or acting a certain way, or perhaps in ways that seem silly, annoying, upsetting. I can promise you that it will have a consistent theme and it is helping them. If you can, just put it down to ‘their way of dealing’ and don’t fight it. Focus instead on what you can do to help. Also, grief and general counselling can help if they are open to it, or educating yourself so you can support them through the journey.

Another common occurrence is that friends and family disappear. I suspect one reason is that everyone wants to focus on happier things (consciously or not). And perhaps the other main reason is that we believe there are other closer, more important people ‘they should be with’ (rationalisation or not). Whatever the reason, from my own experience and those which have been shared with me, everyone felt alone after the death of someone close. One common phrase is “The people I thought were my friends obviously aren’t”. This was even with people who seemed to be constantly around others. We shouldn’t under estimate our contribution and importance to the journey. Even as a total stranger you can make a difference.

Finally the other thing I have noticed is the tendency for people to rush the grieving period. Again I think there is validity in being positive etc however it’s not helpful to tell people what they should be happy for, or that it will pass and life will be great again. In essence you are telling someone they have no reason to feel the way they do. Listening, empathising and helping in even small ways is the best way for you to help.

I guess it is about providing space for someone while you’re standing right there next to them.

If you are supporting someone through a loss or life changing event and counselling is not something they will consider then I would suggest reading up on the five stages of grief. There are 7 and I think 10 stage models as well as “change models” but the principles are what’s important and you can get that out of any of them. If you don’t think you are helping or the person grieving is stuck then I suggest you make contact with a counsellor to chat about the situation.

I rate the value of personality profiles very highly, and it is something I can assist with. In this case it is because there are actually lots of different ways people can be in denial for example. Some of us are very forward and angry while others will become recluse. Understanding someone’s dispositions will guide your approach and help you interpret what’s going.

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