Authenticity, The ONE Big Key to Comforting Others

Authenticity, The ONE Big Key to Comforting Others

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.

Simply Ask

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.

Authentic Listening

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.”

Ask, Again

. . . 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.
Comfort comes with authentic listening

Could we be as authentic as children?

 

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

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Who Showed Up The Day Jesus Died?

Who Showed Up The Day Jesus Died?

I’ve been thinking about who showed up on the day Jesus died.

Who showed up on the day someone you loved dearly died?  Was there violence involved?  Injustice? Corruption? Ignorance, or mob mentality? Who showed up the day your loved one died?  Were they medical personnel? Emergency first responders? A friend, or neighbor . . . maybe family?  Who showed up the day your heart was crushed beyond human repair?

The day Jesus died came suddenly for those who loved him.  Just the night before an upper room filled with optimism of a future kingdom, celebration of the annual Passover rituals, stories, songs and rich traditions.  Now less than 24 hours, Jesus appeared to be the victim of a massive religious conspiracy.

The Women Show UP

The ones catching my attention for showing up are the women. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” 1   Four women wouldn’t leave.  They followed the path of Jesus all the way to the place of His execution.

Imagine supporting the mother of Jesus.  Imagine her body going limp as it collapses with grief, exhausted with the trauma and overwhelmed by what she sees happening to her son.  Imagine holding Mary, gently lowering her to the ground to get the blood flowing again into her head. Think about what you would say or do.  Could you say or do anything that would take her pain away? No!  Just supporting her and each other through this nightmare is everyone’s focus.  But the waves are nauseating. The body can’t hold itself upright.  The need to cry out, “Why?” pushes up and through the sobbing tears.

The Gift of Showing Up

In addition to the women, John the beloved disciple is nearby. 2  He too is holding the women and supporting all of them as the drama unfolds and the unthinkable takes place with each pounding spike. Vulgar language wrapping itself around them like filthy old blankets.  They will stay no matter what.  They will not abandon this death watch.

Jesus, true to His selfless character turns over the care of His mother into the capable respect and love of John.  Just think of the privilege John receives in being commissioned to care for Mary!   Because he showed up where all the hurting people where, he is invited to embrace Mary as his own mother.

Who Showed Up for You?

I wonder who showed up for you on the day someone you loved died. We were blessed to have our friends Jim and Pam Libby show up for us.  Our doctor showed up, and good pastoral care showed up.  These are people we can never thank enough.  They stepped close into our pain.  They walked the distance with us.  So many also came to the funeral and followed up later with invitations for meals, cards sent in the mail, and phone calls of encouragement.

But not everyone gets that kind of support.  At Comfort for the Day, we are doing all we can to change that possible scenario.

Are You the One Who Showed Up for Another?

The women never left.

I wonder if you were one who showed up for another, walking the halls of the hospital, supplying support for the long haul for a friend caring for a family member on hospice, going to the graveside, being available for the new griever in whatever ways they need most.  Supporting friend, you might also have your own grief because you also loved and cared about the one who died.

Maybe the story of the 4 women who stayed with Jesus, supporting each other and especially Mary, is a good example to consider.  These women were in the crowd, horrified to hear the shouts, “Crucify Him!”  In shock and weeping, they traveled with him along the road to Golgotha. None would leave the foot of the cross until Jesus’ body was removed by Joseph and Nicodemus. Even then they followed the men to the grave and saw the where Jesus was placed. Then early Sunday morning these four friends journeyed in the cover of darkness to get to the tomb safely, only to discover the BEST NEWS EVER!  More on that on Sunday.

  1. John 19:25
  2. John 19:16

© Karen Nicola 2019

4 Ways to Support a Grieving Friend in a Social Setting

4 Ways to Support a Grieving Friend in a Social Setting

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.

grief isolation

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

Changing Bad Grief to Good Grief

Changing Bad Grief to Good Grief

You Are Not Alone

When we grieve, we can feel so isolated.  Since few people speak of what grief feels like and there is a void of roll models for healthy grieving, our own private world of suffering can feel very frightening.  With fear comes misunderstanding and anger.  . . . and then a cycle of bad grief begins before we know it.  Pain, isolation, fear, depression, substance abuse followed by pain, and the cycle continues.  I am writing today because I want you to know you are not alone.  There is an end of the bad grief cycle if you want it.

Metaphors for Bereavement

Take a look at what other grievers are saying their grief feels like.  See if some of these metaphors for grief match your experience.

  • Dark room with no exit
  • Unseen broken heart
  • Waves and raging ocean
  • Unstoppable train
  • Falling off a cliff
  • A terrifying roller coaster
  • Colorless/music-less world/all seems bleak or gray
  • Unending rain
  • A shut door to heaven
  • Missing cogs in a gear
  • Bad wheel on a shopping cart
  • Deep dark woods
  • Amputation
  • Deep pit or well with no ropes
  • Hamster wheel

There is a healthy way of grieving and it changes everything. This is an active process that moves us from being a victim of our circumstances to being a strong and courageous presence in the world.  See if any of these ways of grieving could become a part of your thinking, choosing and acting.

Healthy Grief looks like . . . .

  • Being honest
  • Accepting, even welcoming the varied components of grief
  • Understanding that all feelings and experiences of grief are the process of healing
  • Asking for help/receiving help
  • Gaining self awareness
  • Practicing self care
  • Giving myself permission to laugh
  • Noticing positive aspects of the metaphors
  • Patience to wait for and find the answers
  • Knowing I will love again
  • Increasing trust towards others and God

Sometimes I find that what others write about grief is extremely spot on.  Here are just a couple of quotes that seem to speak to these post ideas.

“We can endure much more than we think we can;

all human experience testifies to that. 

All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain.

Grit your teeth and let it hurt.  

So don’t deny it, don’t be overwhelmed by it. 

It will not last forever. 

One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there.”   

Harold Kushner


“Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences

that it is possible to have . . .

The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one and to continue

to treasure the memory of that loss is one of our

noblest human traits.”

–Shneidman


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted . . .

He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted . . . to comfort those who mourn . . .

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you . . .

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,

for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

–Jesus–     as found in:  Matt. 5:4, Isaiah 61;1,2, Is. 66:13, Joshua 1:9

© Karen Nicola June 2016

Our mission is to be a supportive and compassionate companion for those who grieve and helpful, encouraging insight for those who comfort them.

It is our desire that this web site become one of your shared resources when you meet a grieving friend.  Our second, yet equally important goal is to offer significant and relevant information so that CfD remains one of your go-to places for your own benefit.