On helping others deal with grief

Friday June 20, 2014 Written by Published in Virtues in Paradise
On helping others deal with grief PHOTO gregor_ronald on Flikr

This week, I was privileged to facilitate a two day workshop sponsored by Te Vaerua Rehabilitation Services.

The exquisite Red Cross Training Centre, sparkling clean, with tables adorned in beautiful pereus, was filled by 50 caregivers from many NGOs, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Internal Affairs, hospital nurses, Men’s Health, Rehabilitation workers and others.

All had known loss and all had cared for the bereaved or the dying. Together, we explored the healing tools of The Virtues Project. The room was full of compassion.

In a spirit of openness people shared with each other a time of grief and what people did or said that was helpful or not helpful.

  • Ignoring: Just keeping a dying person clean and fed, but not hearing their grief. With bereaved people, ignoring the death, saying nothing, as if their world hasn’t just turned on its axis. It’s like watching the Titanic sink and the water closing over it as if nothing happened. What DOES help is to ask, “How are you, really?” or “Tell me how you really are,” and then giving them the gift of your sacred curiosity, your peaceful, listening presence. Just let them talk. And talk.  When they finish or you really have to go, give them a virtues acknowledgement. “You really love your Dad.”
  • Reassuring or rationalising: “You’ll be okay.” “You just need to accept God’s will.” “Just pray about it.” We often do this to avoid feeling the pain another is experiencing. It is better to put a shield over your heart made of compassion and detachment, and to BE with them, walk beside them in their grief, and listen, trusting that they are indeed in God’s hands and that grief is natural. If you do quote scripture let it be one like, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49)
  • Dictating the time frame for grief. Many people expect you to “get over” your grief within about six weeks. Yet that is the very time when it BEGINS to hit you.  My husband Dan and I visited a papa a week after he lost his wife of 65 years, to say how sorry we were for his loss, and give him a sunset photo from the night his wife died. When we asked, “How are you, really?” he said, “My children don’t like it when I spend time at her grave. They want me to move on.” A week after she died! It is understandable that they don’t want him to hurt, but it isolates him. He NEEDS to gaze at her picture, be at her graveside, to cry his healing tears.  When a parent has lost a child to suicide, grief is even deeper and more complicated. It goes on for many years. Grief is a form of love and is not to be disrespected. Holding it in without a soul to companion you and people telling you to “move on” prolongs the grief. It is not helpful. They will never get over it. They can get through it.

What is truly helpful is to be an excellent, respectful spiritual companion to one who is ill, dying or grieving. Just be there. Bring food. “Bless those healing tears,” is a far more loving response than “Stop your crying.” We all need a circle of compassion to give us silent presence and lots of virtues acknowledgments to help us navigate the grieving process. As Quaker author Douglas V. Steere said, “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery is almost the greatest gift anyone gives another.”  

When someone is hurting, don’t push them past it or try to talk them out of it. Listen, listen, listen and remember, “For everything there is a season…a time to mourn and a time to dance.” They will dance again. Trust their timing and trust God’s.

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