A New Way to Communicate With Families Through Grief & Tragedy

Mindy Corporon’s life dramatically changed in 2014 when her father and son were murdered in a hate crime

Mindy’s life has been marked by grief, trauma, and tragedy. 

Rather than allowing her life experience to hinder her, Mindy has used her experience to become the founder of the Faith Always Wins Foundation.

Mindy drew from her experience as someone coping with tragedy to offer the “ABLE” communication formula  to those working closely with grieving families who are in the midst of a tragedy.

Defining the elements of tragedy

More often than not, the families that are walking through your doors are experiencing tragedy, which Mindy refers to as a combination of grief and trauma. Tragedy affects all aspects of our lives. 

While grief affects our hearts, trauma impacts our brain. Many families that we serve are stuck in “survival mode,” where decision making and everyday tasks can be difficult. 

It is vital to remember that families planning funerals are in the beginning stages of experiencing their tragedy. As you work with families, it is important to realize that tragedy will continue to impact them after the funeral service ends.

Why the “ABLE” communication formula is a valuable tool for funeral directors

One of the biggest challenges while facing a tragedy is the fear of vulnerability for many families. Life following a loss is chaotic in the long-term. Family members may be having difficulty doing everyday tasks, making decisions, and returning to work. 

It is often our first instinct to respond to others’ fear with our own fear. We fear what to say to those experiencing tragedy, when our words could make a huge impact at this moment. 

Using the ABLE communication model

Using the ABLE model can help us respond to those experiencing long-term tragedy during the after care process. Below, we define each aspect of it:

A – Ask

How often do we ask those going through tragedy “How are you doing?” without realizing that this is one of the worst things we can ask. We want our empathy and care for these individuals to show through in our conversations with them. Better questions may include, “How can I help?,” “Are you eating healthfully?,” and “How is your brain today?”

B – Believe

Tragedy can deeply affect the brain and individuals’ beliefs. If a family member mentions that he or she saw an angel, or is experiencing something strange, make sure to not dismiss the grieving individual and convey care and empathy.

L – Listen

Active listening is one of the best things we can offer when we respond from the heart to those experiencing tragedy. Allow individuals to speak their mind, and truly listen to what they are saying without needing to interject too often.

E – Encourage 

Encourage those experiencing tragedy to be vulnerable and to depend on those around them for support. Rather than saying some old adages that may not be as helpful as we think they are (“Everything happens for a reason” or “God needed another angel”), encourage individuals to talk to you about the loved ones they lost when they are ready. Connect individuals with additional after care services if they are interested or need them.

Final thoughts

With aftercare comes an increased need for us to be aware of what families we serve are going through, and how we can continue to support and comfort them in the grieving process. Using the ABLE method can help funeral professionals and anyone who deals with tragedy and grief respond actively and appropriately. At the end of the day, families will remember the relationship they have with you long after the services are complete.

What do you think about the ABLE communication method? Is there anything you’d add to it? Tell us in the comments below!