Working in the law enforcement field, one becomes very familiar with grief and assisting an individual, family or group going through the grieving process. As a result, law enforcement officers have developed professional skills to provide support and guidance in these situations, and this skill set is a large part of what makes them effective in a state of crisis. However, they often struggle with the grieving process themselves because peace officers prefer to fix things; they want to dig in and find immediate solutions to the problem. They also highly value rational decisions and logic. So when officers are faced with supporting someone who is presently experiencing a loss, they often want to try to fix it by changing the grieving person’s situation in an attempt to bring about an immediate positive result. In some cases, they may become irritated with victims if they are not getting over it soon enough based on their own rational and logical expectation. Keep in mind, emotions and processing grief are not bound to logic and are impossible to hold to a timetable.
The grief process will be unique for every person and should be approached with a wide degree of latitude, flexibility and, of course, a high degree of care. It is important to remember that the extreme pain experienced from grief is part of what makes us human and moves us to embrace the connections we make with others. Erich Fromm stated that to spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness. So what do we say to someone who just lost a significant person in their life due to breakup, divorce, death or similar event? Dr. David Kessler, who is a renowned expert in coping with loss, has the following recommendations. Here are the best things to say:
•I am so sorry for your loss.•I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
•I don’t know how you feel, but I am here if I can help in anyway.
•You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
•My favorite memory of your loved one is …
•I am always just a phone call away.
•Give a hug instead of saying something.
•We all need help at times like this, and I am here for you.
•Say nothing and just be with the person.
Some of the worst things you could say include:
•He is in a better place.
•There is a reason for everything.
•I know how you feel.
Dr. Kessler further suggests that providing good support involves being somewhat passive rather than active and admitting that perhaps you can’t make it immediately better. For example, rather than trying to make one feel better by minimizing their loss, you can help them with recognizing their loss. Logic may have you deduce that by doing this you could make them feel worse; however, the complete opposite is true. When assisting the grieving individual, it is important to recognize that properly being there for them will involve you trying to imagine their pain so that you can empathize with them. But at the same time, you are not asking anything from them. Most of us feel that all pain must be stopped at all cost, but in some situations or events, this pain is what gives meaning and inspiration to our lives.
If you or your loved one is experiencing loss or grief, feel free to contact the Psychological Services Bureau. You can call for a consultation and make a confidential appointment at (213) 738-3500. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).