The Express Lane of Grief
December 8, 2023
You may be ill-prepared, but don’t look now – the Christmas holidays are barreling down on us. Wasn’t it just a moment ago that we were basking in the summer sun?
This brief post continues to discuss the impact of grief during the holidays. While our former blogs provided tips on things you might do proactively for someone grieving, this post might be classified as “passive” tips.
There’s no way to sugarcoat grief. It is often a festering wound, and the holidays decisively add another layer of complexity. Grief is the worst emotional and physical pain human beings must endure. According to an article in Forbes in 2020, “recent research on neural pathways suggests there is substantial overlap between the experience of physical and social pain. The cascading events that occur and regions activated in our brains – and therefore our reactions to the acute pain – appear to be similar.”
Those who desperately want to support the grieving often unintentionally insert their foot squarely in their mouth. In her book titled The Alphabet of Grief, Colerain Township native Andrea Raynor writes about this peculiar insensitivity in the chapter titled “Sayings.” According to Raynor, “The nicest, most well-meaning people manage to say the most hurtful things.”
Phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” or “It must have been God’s will” can be insensitive because they imply a sense of justification or purpose behind the loss. Grieving individuals often struggle with making sense of their pain, and such statements can crush like a vice grip by unintentionally dismissing or downplaying their feelings. Raynor writes, “There is no express lane when it comes to grief.”
People in grief may find comfort in acknowledging the randomness or unfairness of life rather than trying to rationalize the loss with well-intended but potentially hurtful clichés. Instead, validating their emotions and providing support without imposing interpretations on their experience is crucial. Offer a comforting presence and let them express their feelings without judgment. Use open-ended questions, and avoid suggesting solutions unless they ask for advice. Simply being there to listen and share in their pain can provide valuable support.
Tips to Consider When Comforting a Person With Grief:
- Be an active listener: Focus on their words, show interest, and reflect On theIr feelings.
- Use nonverbal cues: Use gentle gestures, like a comforting touch or nod, to convey understanding and support.
- Practice respectful silence: Sometimes, being quietly present speaks volumes. Allow space for them to share when they’re ready.
- Share memories: Recalling positive memories of their loved one can offer a warm connection to the past.
- Help with practical matters: Assist with daily tasks or offer to run errands, easing their burden during difficult times.
- Send thoughtful notes: Express your care through written words, sharing condolences or kind thoughts.
- Offer distractions: Suggest activities they enjoy to provide respite from grief.
Remember, the key is to be sensitive to their needs and provide support that aligns with their grieving process. Raynor begins her chapter with a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that’s very appropriate:
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”