Grief is a tough reality- whether you are experiencing it personally or someone you love is experiencing it. Grief is often accompanied by loss; this can be a loss of a loved one, a relationship, a pregnancy, a pet, a job, or a way of life. Grief could happen as a result of a child leaving home, infertility, or a loss of friendship.
No one is immune to grief, and it can be experienced on a spectrum. From grieving the death of my mom to grieving the decision to move to Australia and leaving many loved ones behind, I have found that having support is crucial to my ability to move forward.
I do not claim to know everything about grief. I do not claim the ability to know everyone’s experience of grief. But I am encouraged to think that people may read this and feel empowered to support someone around them who is grieving.
The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it“A New Earth”, Eckart Tolle
Grief is messy. It is unpredictable and spontaneous. It does not discriminate between the “deserving” and “innocent”. So, it is important to begin to address suffering, especially when supporting someone else, with acceptance.
Accept that you don’t understand their experience. Even if you think you know what it is like to grieve, coming to a grieving person with a sense of entitlement to impose your experience is not helpful. Acceptance involves humility and a unique listening.
Allow them the space to speak without an answer or a solution. Hold space for someone to express where they are, then accept where that person is. Maybe that person is still stuck in a place that is not serving them, yet they seem to know the way out. Sometimes people want to stay in grief, and that is okay.
For example, the majority of people know that social isolation is not a productive action over a long period of time. The person experiencing grief most likely knows that they should get out of bed or text their friends back, so telling them they should do so is not necessarily the best task of action. At some point, it may be necessary to be a stand for someone and tell them what they know deep down, but that must come from a place of acceptance and a place of trust.
Open yourself to the reality that they may need something from you that you cannot give. And that’s okay. This is a great opportunity for you to express humility and direct them to a place where they can find the proper resources.
Trust is built in the smallest moments. Show up at the funeral. Notice when someone tells you who their grandmother’s birthday and put it in your calendar. Remember their favorite candy. Send simple texts.
A fear that may come up when wanting to support someone who is grieving is that they feel “othered”, or that you are treating them differently than everyone else. A way to avoid this is by not mentioning the specific circumstance that they are grieving. If they want to talk about it or bring it up, they will. In that case, just listen. Otherwise, simply present your actions as a way to support them regardless of their circumstance.
Trust is built when you choose to connect with someone over and over again just because it is important to another person.
Brené Brown defines trust using an acrostic of the word BRAVING.
B- Boundaries. I have clear boundaries. You respect them.
R- Reliability. You hold to your commitments and stay true to your word.
A- Accountability. You are willing to make a mistake, apologize, and make amends.
V- Vault. You hold information in confidence, including those who are not in the relationship.
I- Integrity. Choose courage over comfort; choose what is right over what is fun and easy.
N- Non-judgment. You can fall apart. You can ask for help.
G- Generosity. You have generous assumptions and assume good intentions in another.
Trust takes time and energy. It is an investment. Count the costs before diving in, because your lack of follow-through may negatively affect someone’s ability to trust another person. Grieving is a sensitive time and a time where people can be skeptical that forces of good are, in fact, on their side.
In the Yamas and Niyamas (the yogic ethical guide to living), there is a story about man walking down a path along a river and looks up to find a monkey in a tree holding a fish. The monkey explains that he is trying to save the fish from drowning. Although the monkey has great intentions, he does not realize that the fish needs the water to survive. A lot of the times, we, as humans attempt to save someone from something that we fear, but it may just be exactly what they need to survive. In fact, suffering in a lot of ways can be such a transformational time that is vital to someone’s quality of life. Suffering, in this case water, is the ideal vessel through which our greatest awakenings are produced.
Freedom is love. Love is freedom. Offer someone the freedom to cry, get angry, to express their needs, and to ask for help. Consider that the greatest, most loving thing you can do for someone is to give them to freedom to be exactly as they are.
This begins with you. Give yourself the freedom to not know the “right” thing to say but try anyways. Give up the need to fix. Surrender to the present moment you have with the person who is grieving.
Allow someone to make a request of you of how you can support them. This may also mean offering some suggestions. “Hey! Want to go to lunch together on Wednesdays during lunch break?” “Want to carpool home on Thursdays after the game?” “Want to run together on Saturday mornings?” They may refuse at first, but just let them know the offer is always open. Their initial refusal may be a sign of a lack of trust or a test to see if you mean what you say. So, this may require you to offer something else or offer again the next week. This requires some forethought- make sure you can commit and get curious about something they like to do or something about your schedules that would be a good suggestion.
I acknowledge you for learning about how to support someone through grief. I acknowledge those who have supported me during my times of grief. You are all game changers.