It might be an odd thing to say, but what we may need more than anything else when struggling through the feelings that the death of a loved one brings with it is for someone to listen.
Many of us have gotten pretty good at sharing and speaking, but listening is something else all together.
When someone you love dies you are left alone. In many cases that feeling of being “by yourself” has nothing to do with how many others are around, rather it’s about struggling with the emptiness and loneliness that overwhelms you.
Having others close by when you hurt and search to make sense of your life and to keep your balance may be helpful, but if they aren’t able to offer you what you need, then all you have is a crowd.
Even though the people who come to offer you support and caring may be sincere and arrive in earnest, if they don’t know how to help and hear your pain and respond to your needs their presence may be in vain.
Imagine, a room full of people all attending a party and someone in the group suddenly has a heart attack.
Sure, there will be someone to call 911 and someone else to put a pillow under the victim’s head and still another to cover him or her with a blanket until help arrives.
Certainly, there will be many others who are truly concerned. But if there is no one in the group who can offer medical assistance, than all of the other acts of “ good intention” seem lacking.
To those who grieve and need to be heard:
It is likely that you need to tell someone how you feel. Your story or your feelings don’t have to make any sense. Chances are, at least when grief is new, that both your reality and your emotions are mixed up.
Don’t worry this is to be expected.
You need to know that there is someone who you can count and depend on.
You need to know that they won’t talk you in or out of your feelings but that they will simply be with you as you struggle and hurt.
To those who want to help:
Be consistent with your grieving friend or relative. If you promise to visit, try not to let them down. Their life is full of disappointments just now.
Encourage them to share their feelings and don’t worry that what they say may not always make clear sense. They are now living in a very confusing time and place.
Try not to speak too much. There is no need for you to find answers here. There may very well be no answers to be had.
Don’t judge what they say and don’t contradict them when it comes to the expression of their feelings. There are no right or wrong, or good or bad feelings.
Hang on when things become uncomfortable. Watching someone cry or suffer the hurt that goes along with the death of someone close can be very difficult. Don’t interject with changing the subject or by saying something like “ they have gone to a better place” or “ at least their suffering is over”.
Clichés only show that you are uncomfortable and prevent the person who is struggling from sharing how they really feel.
Most importantly, try to be patient and don’t talk too much. Don’t worry that they may want to tell the same story or express the same dismay repeatedly. You may hear “ I can’t believe she’s gone” or “this can’t be real” countless times.
Your ability to allow your grieving friend or relative to openly share their hurt and confusion will help them to feel cared for.
Too often when we listen it somehow becomes about us. Avoid telling your story or making this difficult time for your friend or relative about anything but them and their loss.
In time and with a great deal of hard work they will come through their difficult time and if you can remember some of the things I just mentioned, they will have managed largely because of you.
So many people who are caught in the agony of grief never get much help. They are told all kinds of silly, unhelpful things.
If you can learn to listen to their hurt, loneliness and confusion you will have offered so much.