Authenticity is the Key to Comforting a Grieving Friend
I know you don’t mean to avoid the hurting coworker. You don’t intent to exclude the grieving mother in the group. It just happens. Instead of moving away, you want to know that when you step closer to someone in pain, it will be the right thing. The skill most needed for compassionate comfort is simply gentle authenticity ~ to be real and honest.
Can you really know what your grieving friend or relative is thinking and feeling? Why not ask? When you do, be genuine and take the time to really hear what they tell you. It might go like this:
“Hey Tom, I have no idea what it feels like for you right now. The thing is, I want to know and understand. Could you help me and let me know what your grief feels like today?”
Your grieving friend could answer in a variety of ways:
“Thanks for asking, I really don’t want to talk right now.” Or,
“Are you sure you have the time?” Or,
“I can’t find the words. It is too painful and confusing, but I can tell you this . . .”
True to Your Offer
How ever they reply, accept it. Remind them that you will be available when they are ready, and then be true to that assurance. A few days might pass or a couple of weeks. You could open the conversation by reminding your friend that he didn’t want to talk then, but you were wondering if he felt like it today. This gentle reminder that is initiated by you, assures him you meant it when you told him that you are here for him.
When your grieving friend does open up and begins to talk, listen without interruption.
Give them your eyes.
Listen with your heart.
Give her your full attention so that you aren’t even thinking about how you should respond to their thoughts or story. This conversation is not about you. It is all about them.
Be okay with their silence as they are searching for vocabulary to express the inexpressible. Her silence is not your cue to fill the space with your story, ideas or words.
A simple touch of her hand, or an embrace around the shoulder will assure her that you care. And at that moment, knowing someone cares and is brave enough to be with her in her pain is powerful comfort.
What you Don’t Know, You Don’t Know
Even if we have experienced a similar loss to the current loss our friend is grieving, you and I don’t really know how they feel. The relationship with the deceased, the unfinished business, their personality, his or her previous experiences with death and grief all create our friend’s perfect storm of mourning. If you have similar experiences, the better authentic response could be:
“Even though my mother died too, I really have no idea how this is for you. Please tell me so I can understand and be supportive for you.”
. . . When I can’t take it any longer and I know I have a piece of insight or verbal consolation, I make it my goal to ask my grieving friend for permission to share an idea or suggestion for their pain. As I do this, I must remind myself that I cannot and should not “fix” their grief for them. That is their work to do. Yet if I see them really suffering, I ask for permission to share. It might go like this:
“Would it be okay with you if I shared what really helped me?” Keep it brief and check in with them to see if that was of any help for them.
“Did you know that grief can be healthy or unhealthy? What can you do to take a healthy approach right now?” Then let them come up with the answer.
“Would you mind if I prayed for you right now?” Friends in grief are very vulnerable and they may be very spiritually private. Asking is a polite gesture of honoring their privacy.
Being a friend to the grieving just takes a little extra thoughtfulness. Consider what would be kind and supportive for them. Remember it could be different for your friend than for yourself. So ASK before you jump in and offer your wisdom or help. They might need something you didn’t even think of. Authenticity is our key to coming alongside someone with a broken heart. You can come close and be supportive with those who are mourning by keeping it real.
© Karen Nicola July 2019