Making a difference in your world by being a better friend
Grief is indeed a difficult subject to face. For most of us it does not attract our attention as a topic that we naturally wish to be an expert on. Yet, coping with loss qualifies as a natural part of life. Because you have read this book, you are ahead of many of your peers and relatives in your ability to deal with grieving.
Knowing what to say, or not say, often comes through a better understanding of the grieving process. Such understanding does not always have to be obtained through personal experience. We can benefit from that of others willing to be honest about their feelings and journey following a loss.
Hopefully the experiences and observations collected in this book have increased your awareness of the grieving process. You are now more skillfully equipped to be a better friend to those around you who experience loss. Most of us will encounter at least one person within the next year who will be called on to process some sort of loss. It may even be you.
Comments of comfort should not be geared to “fix” the problem of grief for the bereaved. Commonly, too many who have not dealt with the mourning process will attempt to avoid it when faced with the grief of others. Grief cannot be fixed, it needs to be processed. So, the first thing we can do is to acknowledge the pain instead of trying to make it go away fast.
Grief is the acknowledgement of loss emotionally. It is mostly a heart problem, not a mind challenge. Heart statements go farther in comforting the bereaved than head statements early on. Logically explaining away grief does little in soothing the hurt in the heart. Mind logic can play a part in long-term processing of loss but it comes up short when the most encompassing pain at the moment is emotional.
Mourners are sensitive to unsupportive comments that seem to minimize their grief. Grieving comes from deep within us. Denying it or diminishing it can be perceived as a personal criticism. Such implications may cause guilt and withdrawal on the part of the grieving and be a hindrance to their ability to process their loss victoriously. Allowing them to grieve will uphold them better.
Avoiding grievers socially, or avoiding the topic of their loss, stifles their grieving process. Grief can become the proverbial “elephant in the room” with grievers. They feel it even more than their friends. Excluding them from social events and conversations only accentuates their pain. Avoidance does not soften the pain for them. To eliminate the topic of their grieving experience and the one they have lost is to ignore the most important thing that is happening in their life. Good friends don’t do that.
Avoid time limits. Setting a time limit on how and how long any one person is allowed to grieve over a particular loss can be demeaning to the griever. They can feel like you are being disrespectful towards their loss or loved one. Be aware of timing in words of comfort. You need to be discerning in knowing when to make certain comments to a griever. Being a better friend revolves around listening and supporting their journey, instead of limiting it.
The grieving are not looking for logic statements of being told what to do. What they need is a listening ear. No one likes to be “bossed” around under the best of circumstances. To “command” a person who is grieving in an attempt to “talk them out of it” may only drive them away from you as a person with no effective help to their pain. Instructive statements must be well-timed and presented in the form of suggestions or examples. Grievers need to be heard more than directed.
Theological lectures are seldom of much relief for the pain of new grief. Theological arguments at the time of loss can be misconstrued as a rebuke. This can come across as rejection and not a form of comfort. Religious beliefs are often embraced in the mind through the logic door. Emotional pain is seldom soothed deeply through that avenue. Again, timing can be very important if this topic needs to be addressed.
Consolation for the bereaved needs to be more about their personal pain, than about the one they have lost. The temptation is very strong to talk more about the person or item lost, than about the needs of the griever. The deepest problem is the emotional pain inside. Logical statements about the person or items lost can be of help. However, if we ignore the heartache being experienced, we will not help our friend to work through their journey as effectively.
Comments that might be interpreted as a judgmental attitude are of no comfort to the bereaved. No one likes to be told they are wrong or at fault for the loss. The bereaved commonly cope with forms of guilt in the normal flow of the process. It is no help to add blame to their pain. They are at a very vulnerable time in their lives and your words must be chosen carefully.
It is common for the supporting friend to feel a certain amount of discomfort but this shouldn’t be a hindrance. Remember that your words of comfort need to revolve around the feelings of the bereaved. Many of the “What Not to Say” comments were blurted out by would-be comforters uneasy with their own feelings. It’s helpful to stay away from statements that begin with, “I always say” and “you should just” to grievers. Keep your attention on the emotional state of your friend.
Recognizing the griever’s present pain has more value than attempts to empathize by comparing to your past losses. The tendency to “one up” on a griever in an effort to sympathize with them usually results in a comparison game that can diminish the pain of the griever. Also, since each person grieves differently, it is not usually beneficial to make comparisons but simply to seek understanding of the mourner’s experience.
Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional caregiver. The other half revolves around the doing. I am truly grateful to the people in my life who not only knew what to say but followed through with the supportive action. Many of my friends and family were active the day and weeks following the death of each of my wives. Others called me months later asking to go for a walk and talk, or go out to eat. My family openly talked with each other and me about their mom’s memories and how much they missed her. I was asked often by acquaintances to speak publicly about my grieving journey.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Life goes on. Mine has indeed progressed in fine style. The evidence that I have “practiced what I preach” about the mourning process becomes apparent with the developments in my life beyond my grieving period. I am living proof that the suggestions you have read in this book work and have merit.
I documented the points of progress in the grieving and healing process by writing a “progress report” to my children. This public diary served as a teaching tool for the family on grief and a victory record for me.
The following year after Judith’s death, after much re-definition of who I am, my emotions and focus in life began to settle to a new level. My vision to write this book was established. I received a refreshed job description in my career work. I moved out of the house where Judith died. With help from one of my daughters, I established a profile on Christian Mingle.
Each of the new, solid developments in my life was possible because my emotions had been given clear and ample time to grieve fully by my “leaning into” the process and having those around me who gave me permission to do so with their support.
Many of these changes have given me a new, full and purposeful life. First of all, I met Crystal Wacker. What a lady! She has entered my life with love and wit that brightens every day. Our marriage has completed my life at a whole new level. Her support for me in life’s challenges and accomplishments has been invaluable. In addition to her continued work as editor of Reach Up Magazine, she helps me in my writing and speaking engagements.
I’m confident that through the information in this book you have gained some insight on how to be a better friend to a griever. And I encourage you to make a difference in the lives of friends who have experienced loss. If you wish to share this material with a greater circle of influence, I am available to speak for conferences, meetings and employee training.