One of the great ironies in life is that loss is a part of living. We are all touched by loss. Some losses we can anticipate; some we cannot. Just last week a dear friend of mine experienced the unexpected loss of her adult daughter in a tragic accident. I heard from an acquaintance today that she just lost a friend to suicide. We recently lost our 13-year-old Lab, who was like a family member.
With loss comes a grieving process, and in the midst of grief, we need comfort. When we are hurting, the most healing comfort comes to us through connection by the words and actions of loved ones. No one wants to feel alone in their pain. Yet often times, people shy away from demonstrating gestures of comfort to a hurting friend or family member out of fear: I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing. I don’t know what to say, so I haven’t said anything. I’m afraid I’ll make it worse.
Fear prevents hope from taking root. When someone you care about is hurting, the worst thing you can do is nothing. The best thing you can do is something. Anything to demonstrate you care. Send a card. Make that phone call. Drop off a meal. Order some flowers. Type the email, and hit send.
Hope whispers, say something.
If you are really concerned that what you say may provoke greater sadness or unintentional pain, then keep it simple and heartfelt. Sentiments such as, I’m so sorry you are hurting; I am here for you and your family; Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make this time easier for you; What do you need right now?, are some examples of generally helpful statements when someone is experiencing the pain of a loss. Occasionally, you may have an experience where your well-meaning words are not well received. Do not let this deter you the next time someone you care about could use some comforting. Grief and shock can temporarily send people into unexpected emotional turmoil, and a backlash onto whoever is nearest or dearest could occur. Try not to take it personally.
Resist the urge to give advice or explain the loss. Statements such as, It was his time; Everything happens for a reason; You’ll get over it; Time heals all wound; I know exactly how you feel, generally do not invite comfort because they don’t allow for the person to identify and express the variety of emotions they may be feeling. These may include sadness, disappointment, anger, disbelief, fear, guilt, or even relief. There are no “right or wrong” emotions attached to grieving; each person’s grief experience and accompanying emotions are unique. While there is no set time table for how long it takes to grieve a loss, just offering to nonjudgmentally listen to your loved one, can be a tremendous help in the process. Expressing emotions in a balanced and healthy way will help someone move through the grieving process after a loss. It’s when someone does not express whatever emotions they are feeling, that emotional numbness sets in, and they will find themselves emotionally arrested.
To ignore someone’s loss because you don’t know what to say actually does say something. It says you are more concerned about your own pride than their pain. The truth is, we all like to look like we have it all together, and know what to say and do at all times. But that’s just not true. To admit our own shortcomings via lack of knowledge of the particulars of someone else’s pain, is to meet them in the middle of their own state of bewilderment. Muddling through unknown territory is a much less arduous task when we have a traveling companion. Or even someone to sit with and rest awhile when we become weary. We are stronger together. It’s when we connect in this true state of human frailty, that we can all find our way out of our fears of the uncertainties of life, and into the hope of healing from our losses.
Have you been the recipient of someone else’s gesture of comfort when you experienced a loss? What did your friend or family member say or do that you found helpful and healing?