My grieving friend, a new widow, recently wrote this to me;
“I am not able to interact in a group setting with friends chatting and laughing. I went to a couple of gatherings and had to leave. Feeling angry that they all move ahead with their normal lives and I am devastated. My world has completely changed and I am not sure what to do at all.”
If you had been part of the group, what would you be thinking and feeling if you could have known what was going on in this new widow’s head and heart? It caused me to pause and reflect on the newly bereaved in social gatherings. Here are a few of my thoughts.
A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way
We have all found ourselves unaware of how our conversations and socializing affects a grieving person. Probably the most vulnerable grievers in groups are parents who have newly buried a child and spouses who are painfully trying to figure out how life goes on without their partner.
I teach over and over again that when we are in the presence of a grieving person, our shift needs to focus on them and what makes them comfortable. They have limited capacities to offer much to us directly. However, indirectly they give us the opportunity to get out of ourselves and learn better how to support them. And in a way, that is a great take-away for us.
Possibly you have mastered one-on-one grief comfort skills, but what happens when you find yourself in a group? Social, light chit chat is somewhat the norm, but to a brokenhearted person, it feels meaningless, trivial, and absolutely irrelevant. Suddenly they may feel overwhelmed with a deep sense of isolation even in the middle of a crowd.
4 Ways to Include a Grieving Friend
When you find yourself in a social, group setting and newly bereaved friends are among the mix, here are a couple of steps you can take:
Seek that person out and spend some one-on-one time with that individual. It is possible you will be the only one who spends time with them, so be willing to spend the entire time with them if you feel they need that.
Bring a couple of other friends with you and surround the grieving one in a friendly, caring circle. Be intentional to mention the recent loss and extend your support and your desire to understand what he or she is experiencing. Then let them do the talking.
Sharing your personal stories and memories of the deceased loved one, is one of the most thoughtful and often entertaining conversations a grieving friend would welcome and later cherish.
Look for clues to your grieving friend’s comfort level. Do they seem nervous, or distracted, or not interested in carrying on conversation? Check with them to discover how they might need you to be helpful at the moment. They may need you to cover for them as they quietly leave the gathering, or possibly even escort them home, if they are feeling too emotional to drive.
The point of all of this is to keep your grieving friend’s needs your priority. Encourage others to join you in this focus and support. Being in public gatherings after the death of someone important and dear to us, is very difficult. (This includes church!) Being aware and taking steps to support them as they learn their new role in social, public, or religious gatherings will be an invaluable kindness. It really takes just a little paradigm shift to enlarge our levels of sensitivity and compassion for those who bring their grief with them. Let’s keep their perspective in our minds so we can be friends who help instead of harm.
© Karen Nicola April 2019