Living through the seasons of grief.
Do you know why you feel uncomfortable and awkward about reaching out to a grieving friend? There are probably many reasons, but the one I want us to think about as we race through the holidays, is this: We use our own paradigm to guide our understanding and reactions about what another person is experiencing. We assume that the grieving friend would need or want the same things we do. This is a fatal mistake. Even if we have gone through a similar type of grief or loss, we do not, and CAN NOT know what the other person is experiencing. This may be one case that “Doing unto others what we want them to do for us,” may not work in its initial application. Due to the makeup of their personality, coping skills, history, temperament, and unique relationship to their loss, they are the only ones who are grieving in that particular way. So what are we to do?
My recommendation is to be prepared with two critical communication skills: listen and ask questions.
This type of listening is NOT so you can share you own story. Your friend is not to be interrupted. Listening can include long periods of silence. When we are listening to the hurting heart of a friend, it is not the time to make value judgments in our mind about their pain and/or reactions to their suffering. In other words, close your mental door to any pushy thoughts of “that’s not so bad,” or “that’s terrible!” It is what it is FOR THEM, not for you. Listen just to know and understand what THEY are experiencing. This type of listening is NOT about you. Give good eye contact. Allow your own tears to express your connection. Do not look away if or when your friend begins to cry. Let he or she know you are going to be okay when their pain must be released through their eyes.
When words are necessary, stay focused that your words still remain about them. A couple of examples are:
Thank you for sharing.
I am honored to be with you right now.
I am committed to being with you through your process.
This is really hard, isn’t it?
The questions we pose need to be in direct relationship to what we have just heard and experienced together. A few examples are:
Would you take a hug?
Would you like to tell me more?
What do you think you need most right now? From me? From others?
When may I visit again?
May I have your permission to offer . . . an insight, a suggestion, prayer, etc.? (It is always best practice to ask permission before offering help. Be prepared for them to say “No” and honor that.)
Here is the point: the month of December is painful for those carrying raw wounds and old hurt. You can make a huge difference for someone by taking the time to listen and ask questions. You could give the gift this holiday season of authentically supporting a grieving friend. In this way, you would be giving them what THEY need most, not what you want or need from them. I find it interesting to consider this type of gifting ~ the kind that really meets the need of another ~ is the real reason for the season. When you do this, an amazing sense of quality, honor, and satisfaction grows in your own heart and both of you have received a gift.