We’re not perfect!

Grief is messy and humans are messy. We need to accept that going through loss is going to be messy. As you sit with your client or friend in this pause that is new grief, the best thing to do is to admit that there’s nothing that you can do to “fix it”, but you are here and you care for them. But, we’re the counselor; we’re expected to know what to do. Yes, we’ve been taught all those words of comfort, but they don’t fit right now. In early grief, nothing you can do or say is going to be right. It’s PAINFUL! We can’t heal someone’s pain by taking it away from them. It is much more useful and kind to acknowledge the pain.

It is relief for both you and your friend or client to tell and hear the truth. This stinks and it’s going to for a while. It’s analogous to a wound in the body. We can take medicine, wear a cast, etc. But, the body takes time to heal. We need to allow that same for the mental anguish of grief, especially out of order grief. (Worden calls this complicated grief, but isn’t all grief complicated?)

Carrying this analogy even further, I’m reminded of the tree. It doesn’t really even heal the wound. When a tree is wounded, the injured tissue is not repaired and does not heal. Trees do not heal; they seal. If we look at an old wound, we will notice that it does not “heal” from the inside out, but eventually the tree covers the opening by forming specialized “callus” tissue around the edges of the wound. That’s how those holes that we call “knots” are formed.

And, the tree continues to grow even with the wound. In early grief, we’re still part of the wound. We haven’t moved on to actual healing. That will take time. And, it will take even more time and work to form the callus around the wound that will allow for the tree to begin to focus on growth again. Arborists advise that, rather than seal out infection, wound dressings often seal in moisture and decay. In most cases, it is best to simply let wounds seal on their own. We can carry this lesson to ourselves. It’s best not to even attempt to fix the wound, but to allow your friend or client to sit with their grief and learn from it. These are high-level “soft” skills and not easy to practice as it’s human nature to want to fix something that appears broken. But, the main skills can be expressed as simple counseling: (1) Be truly present, (2) Listen attentively, and (3) Provide Unconditional Positive Regard. The biggest lesson: Don’t fix!

Grieving people would much rather have you stumble through your support than have you confidently assert that things are not as bad as they seem. Please, for all that’s holy, don’t remind them how strong they are! They don’t feel strong at this moment. We need to let the pain exist so that our friend or client feels safe enough to say, “This hurts.” As a support person, companionship inside what hurts is what is asked of you. By not offering solutions for what cannot be fixed, you can make things better, even when you can’t make them right. (Devine, 2017)

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Tippy, Tippy Toes

We say all kinds of things to attempt to put meaning to those hard to say things: I love you … to the moon and back; this much (with outstretched arms); to infinity and beyond, etc. I always told Bob that I loved him from the top of my head to my tippy, tippy toes. What that meant to us was all of me. With a love that intense, it is of course painful to say good bye.

So, how do we comfort someone going through such an intense loss. As mentioned in the last blog, we need to resist the urge to try to fix it or make it right. But, that is so difficult. It’s human nature to want to comfort someone when they are in pain. We want to “make it better” as a band-aid does for a child. But, when one is pain, those words of comfort seem patronizing, much like that band-aid. As a child, we thought it was a cure all. Yet, as an adult, we know better.

We can’t remove the urge to want to bring comfort, but we need to try not to act on it. Pause before you offer any kind of support. In that pause, think long and hard what the best course of action truly is. Acknowledgement of the reality of pain is usually a far better response than trying to fix it (Devine, 2017). Just sitting with someone going through the pain of grief is usually what is needed most. More frequently than not, they just need to be heard. They need the reality of the pure and utter mess of a situation that this is validated and mirrored back. And, most of the time, people want to talk about the loss. Grief uncomfortable, so most people skirt around it. But, we need to push past our own comfort zone for the sake of our friend or client in pain.

The way to truly be helpful to someone in pain, especially at the beginning of loss, is to let them have their pain. Let them share the reality of how much this hurts, how hard this is, without jumping in to clean it up, make it smaller, or make it go away (Devine, 2017). That pause between the urge or impulse to help and taking action lets you come to the pain with skill, and with love. That pause lets you remember that your role is that of witness, not problem solver (Devine, 2017).

And, that’s where I am personally on day 90 of the loss of my amazing husband. And, most remain in this pause where just sitting with the grief to allow respect for the loss for quite some time. Those who’ve walked this journey before me tell me it’s usually about a year. So, remember that just being there is the best way to “fix it” for now. You don’t need to say or do the “right thing”; you just need to be there.

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Supporting the Walk

Because I hope to help others understand the supporting of grief a little better through my experience, I’m going to focus a little bit on being with someone while they’re grieving. It’s incredibly difficult! Although we as a culture fail to support grieving people appropriately, it’s important to applaud your wanting to be supportive. By wanting to do the big, deep, heavy, hard work of loving someone inside their pain, you are doing a wonderful service!

Yet, to truly be supportive, we need a new image of what grief support really is. Devine writes:

When a bone is broken, it needs a supportive case around it to help it heal. It needs a supportive case around it to help it heal. It needs external support so it can go about the intricate complex, difficult process of growing itself back together. Your task is to be part of that case for your broken friend. Not to do the actual mending. Not to offer pep talks to the broken places about how they’re going to be great again. Not to offer suggestions about the bone might go about becoming whole. Your task is to simply be there. Wrap yourself around what is broken. Your job… is to bear witness to something beautiful and terrible – and to resist the very human urge to fix it or make it right.

We’re all so uncomfortable with grief that we tend to want to fix it so that we don’t have to endure it. Someone going through grief doesn’t have that luxury. The grief must be endured in order to heal. To ignore it would be analogous to ignoring a physical illness. We wouldn’t ignore the broken bone, the burst appendix, the heart arrhythmia, etc. It takes time and support for physical healing just as it takes time and support for emotional healing. We need to allow that!

The biggest thing to remember today is to resist the urge to make it better. We need to notice that urge or impulse, then don’t act on it. Pause before you offer support. We will discuss what to do in that pause as we continue the support and walk through each week.

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Walking Alongside Grief

If I don’t manage to spread any other message through my sharing than this one, then I will feel that I have accomplished my goal. It is such a misunderstanding that we “accept” loss or “get through” it. We instead learn to carry our pain a little lighter as we walk alongside it.

That is the primary purpose for this blog: to help me walk alongside the grief for the most amazing man that ever walked this earth. I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “One of the most beautiful compensations of this life is that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

As a counselor educator, I began this blog to help other counselors. Yet, in the midst, I went through this life changing event. And, pain, just as any feeling, needs expression. As Megan Devine so eloquently expresses, “the human mind naturally goes to creative expression; it’s the way we’re built. We are storytelling creatures.” It’s not that writing, or any creative activity, is healing in and of itself. I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination that creating something out of grief makes it a “fair trade” or even that it will move me out of the fog at a faster rate. What I do believe is that writing it down will help me to make sense of the world, especially now when everything that’s happened seems to make no sense.

So, I began with the very personal story that brought us to where we are. And, yes, I will always use the “royal” we. One does not partner with another for over 38 years without carrying that soul for all eternity. I continue to wear the “married ring” as my granddaughter affectionately termed it many years ago. I will be his wife forever. Death does not part us. It simply changes the relationship. Writing allows that connection to continue. The stories are a continuation of love.

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)