I very recently had someone I love very dearly go through a family loss and I was not able to be by their side for support. We are so connected that I could feel their grief from a distance and so I spent the week doing all that I could to send that person love, energy, distractions, and support from a far. By the end of the week they made a small comment about how every time they started to feel sad and overwhelmed I had somehow done something to distract them and completely take their mind off their grief for the moment. It was the biggest compliment I could have been given, because I was in fact working very hard to both honor and aid in the distraction of their grief, and it felt amazing to know that my efforts had been noticed and appreciated. It also reminded me of my own experiences with grief and the moments of both solitude and connection that I felt at different times throughout.
I know a great deal about first hand personal grief, and about the residual effects that come with the territory of being an empath and being overly sensitive to all kinds of emotions. Unfortunately, it is always easier to help others than it is to help yourself. Me personally, I recognize that I push the people that I love away even though I want them near during my toughest struggles and darkest days of grief. I do not want people to see me during what I see as moments of weakness. I am working on changing that way of thinking by trying to be honest with myself about what it is I am actually expecting from people during my moments of grief. Reading the book The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh is another step that I am taking towards growing and self enlightenment. My goal is to help both myself and the ones that I love communicate better, and in turn be a better friend to those who may need compassionate support through any rough patches of life that might arise.
Everyone has different needs and expectations during their grieving experiences. What ever caused the loss, hurt, or sadness, whether it be a new or old event, will always have an effect on the griever. Raw open wounds and reminders of old hurts will sometimes trigger us to act in ways that could push those closest to us away when in fact what we want is the very opposite. Some, myself included, say that we want comfort yet act in ways that push people away from us instead of encouraging the compassionate responses we want. So how can we help ourselves communicate better, and help each other through difficult times? For some, actions speak louder than words, while others need to hear the words spoken in order to trust the actions.
The often repeated obligatory phrases “There is a reason for everything” “I’m sorry for your loss” “Things will get better” or even a simple “Are you Ok?” can be aggravating to the griever when said at the wrong time. When in the position of wanting to help a friend or loved one in grief, often times our first desire is to try to “fix” the situation, when in all actuality our good intentions can lead to nothing but more grief. Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional caregiver. The first thing to remember when helping someone through their pain is that this grief is not your own. This is not about you and your feelings so please try not to allow them to get in the way of helping your grieving friend in need. Take the time to understand and show proper respect to your friend’s grief and feelings. Allow the griever to set the pace. Hopefully they will give you subtle hints about what is needed if they are unable to come right out and ask for help. Some may need a distraction, some may crave solitude, some may need a partner to make them not feel alone as they face their grief head on and embrace the feelings, while some actually need a healthy balance of both.
If your friend or loved one needs a shoulder to cry on or an ear to bend, make them feel heard and respond in kind. Being able to just sit and listen is an amazing gift to give someone in need, but being able to give a heartfelt response of some kind is even more helpful. If a distraction is needed use your best judgement as to what type of distraction is most appropriate for the moment. If you can help be a distraction in person go somewhere fun, it’s alright to laugh during times of grief. Laughter is the best medicine, but you also don’t want your timing to ever be tacky or disrespectful. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones, increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease also. Bonus! Go see a movie or do something educational so you have to use your brain in other ways than focusing on your grief. If you can not be there in person for your friend in need there are still lots of ways you can help someone get through their time of grief from a distance. Send pictures, links to jokes, share articles that you enjoy, challenge with brain teasers, and utilize everything that you can to connect and distract in anyway that you can.
There is a super cute article that lays out six simple tips on how to be a good friend. Listen, Ask them what they need, Get physical, Keep in touch, and Tell them how you feel. You can read the entire article here: How To Be A Good Friend
I am only a few chapters into The Art of Communication and already everything that I am reading is vibing with my current thoughts and situations, educating me, and healing me. My favorite part of tonight’s readings went as follows:
“What you read and write can help you heal, so be thoughtful about what you consume. When you write an e-mail or a letter that is full of understanding and compassion, you are nourishing yourself during the time you write that letter. Even if it’s just a short note, everything you are writing down can nourish you and the person to whom you are writing.”
I loved that section so very much because that it is a practice I use myself to get through moments of difficulty. If yourself or someone you care about it grieving the best thing that you could do is put pen to paper and fill the pages with words of understanding, compassion and love. Using phrases like “I don’t know how you feel but I am here to help” or “I wish I had the right words, just know that I care” might possibly do more to soothe a grievers distressed mind than declaring that you “know how they feel” or advising to “be strong”. We all have moments of grief throughout our lives, it is inevitable. It is important to be honest with yourself when you are feeling sad, own it, embrace it, then move past into the light so that you are able to help someone else with your strength.