One of the most important things that I learned from the Grief Recovery Training is that grievers need to be listened to. They need to be heard. They need respect. They need time to separate from those around them, for a little while, to unplug.
They don’t how to do this. They don’t know how to grieve. We want to fix them. They are not broken. I don’t want to see my sister cry from a broken heart. I knew I could help her and fix her by staying near her, and meeting every one of her needs.
Realistically, this could not continue forever. I had my own family to attend to and I had a husband who needed me.
I could not fix this for Erica. I could not bring Austin back. I could not turn back the hands of time and make it all go away. Even though this was all that I wanted for her. I did feel helpless. Below are some tips for you and your grieving family and friends that will make this time seem not so unnatural.
Believe it or not, the number one thing that we can do for the griever is be present. Show up for them. As a Grief Recovery Specialist, I will let you know that the most important thing you can do is “hold their space.”
I use this phrase a lot in my office and it simply means “be there.” Just be there. Listen to them. I don’t know how long the griever will need you. There is no amount of time that will make this better. Just be present.
Do understand that not every griever is waiting for you to have the perfect words of wisdom. So many times, there are “no” words that will make them feel better. We supporters need to be okay with the fact that not having words is complexly okay.
⦁ Do say that your heart is breaking with theirs.
⦁ Do say that you cannot imagine how this feels for them.
⦁ Do ask the griever what has happened. So many people are afraid to do this and no one will ever ask them why.
⦁ Listen to the griever talk. Most times, the grievers only want to talk.
⦁ Don’t tell them that you know how they feel. Because you don’t.
⦁ Don’t say, at the very least, that the griever is no longer in pain.
⦁ If you don’t know what to say, it is perfectly okay to say nothing. Just be there. Sometimes, the perfect words are not words; it is just the presence. Just be there.
⦁ Pay attention to what is going on around you. Stop all other activities to listen. Turn off the background noise or move to a quiet corner.
Be present. Listen with an open, grateful, and interested heart rather than critically evaluating what’s being said. Be still for the small amount of time that the person speaking needs you.
Stop talking. And listen with both ears. Open your heart, mind, and soul.
Listen for understanding. Put yourself in the speaker’s place. No one expects you to understand what they are feeling completely. You don’t even have to understand or believe them with the mind. Let your heart take over. Show compassion. Just be there.
Ask for clarification. This can help you better understand what’s being expressed. It will also reassure them that you are, in fact, listening to every word.
Pause before you speak. Don’t interrupt them. Ask them if they have anything else to share before you speak.
Let them know that you are listening to them. Encouraging gestures include your empathetic facial expressions, nodding, and sympathetic postures. Place your hand on your heart. Let them know that your heart is breaking with theirs. Usually, words are not needed to let someone know that you care and that you hear them.
Do not touch them, pat them, or hand them a tissue. If the conversation becomes tearful—and most likely it will—do not interfere with any of these gestures. Just let them be. If the grieving person wants to wipe his/her face, he/she will do so by himself or herself. If you touch them or rub them, you may stop their true emotions from being expressed. Or it may signal to them that you truly do not want to hear what they want to say. It may seem like an unsafe place for them to talk and pour their hearts out.
Be still. Be quiet. And just be there.
About Sharon Brubaker
Grief is individual and unique for every person. A person’s relationship to each aspect of their life is also unique. As such, the feelings and thoughts each person will have about the relationship that has been altered by death, divorce, or other reasons requires customized attention using proven skills and understanding.