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 is 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 – 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.
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)