I read this article today about how to respond to people who are grieving. The last things to say, according to this article, are comments like “it’s all for the best” or “you will learn something from this” or “they are in a better place” or likely everyone’s least favorite: “this happens for a reason.”
While the author is a little bit extreme when he suggests to ditch these people, he is very correct when he asserts we don’t know how to deal with grief. We don’t. In fact, I feel guided to write about this because it is one of the things my friend who exited her body last week spoke of.
Western culture, in general, is uncomfortable with emotion. In my family, the standard emotion was “everything is fine”. I remember attending funerals and either wanting to cry but not feeling comfortable doing so or not really knowing what I was supposed to be doing much less feeling.
Emotions. We don’t discuss them. But they make up who we are. Anger. Sadness. Fear. Jealousy. And their deeper level cousins – rage, despondency, terror and bitter control. And then there’s grief – which makes up all of the emotions. When either we or someone we love becomes seriously ill or when someone we love dies, the emotions are all over the place. We are in shock, especially if the death/illness comes unexpectedly. We go into denial. This can’t be happening. We get angry. Why me? Why them? Why not? WHY? Then come the tears – whenever they want. Those tears are like a toddler’s temper tantrum – you never know when they will strike, how long they will last or how loud and out of control they will show themselves.
My beautiful friend who died last week had her own thoughts on grief. I remember one conversation we had, the topic was Jackie Kennedy and how she behaved during her husband’s funeral after he had been brutally shot and killed right before her eyes. She says she remembers the country praising her for how in control she was with her emotions at the funeral. Dignified. A lady. To which my dear friend called bullshit. “I wanted to see her throw herself on that coffin and rage and scream and cry tears. Real tears. I didn’t want to see her stand there like a numb skeleton. I wanted to see her really show her grief. That’s authentic.”
Indeed. Authentic emotions, not this pretend keep-it-to-ourselves game we play.
So that’s what I have been doing. Crying. Raging. Today the punching bag received a good workout. Why? Why her? She was so young. Too young. She had had such a struggle in this world that can be so dark and ugly at times. In my heart, I feel she was too bright, too real for this too-often-fake culture of “everything’s fine”.
Returning to this article I mention above. What not to say to someone who is grieving. In the past few days I’ve heard ’em all. “She’s probably better off.” “Oh, lots of people have cancer.” And my least favorite, “It was her time.”
Bullshit on all of the above. BULLSHIT.
Now let’s present what to say to someone who is grieving. It is very simple, really. “I am so sorry and I am here with you.” Not I’m here FOR you but I am here WITH you. Empathy. Compassion. Letting someone know I FEEL you. Heck, I would simply take an “I am sorry”. Then if I break down crying, which I am doing at the moment, just be there quietly with me.
Love in action.
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