Sunday, August 4, 2013

Being When Others Grieve

We have ALL experienced loss in life, in fact research suggests there are more than 43, yes 43 things we can experience as a loss. What we know is that no two people who experience the same loss, experience it the same.  No loss is greater than the next.  We all experience our pain at 100%!  (A few of the 43 losses, a pet, a friend, a parent, a spouse, fertility issues, adoption, a job, a divorce, birth, a hearbreaking break up, a child).  

That's right, We ALL EXPERIENCE EACH LOSS at 100%.

To say to someone, "I know how you feel because I lost....." is not comforting.  You do not know someone else's pain.  You just do not.  Grief is defined as the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Being with someone who is grieving is HARD, AWKWARD, and UNCOMFORTABLE. These feelings do not reflect negatively on you, feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.  What reflects in a less than honorable light is what we do with those feelings.  When those feelings, about you, overtake your ability to BE about others. The power of BEING with someone who is grieving is not measurable.  I would like to suggest it is one of the biggest gifts you can offer to one who is sinking in pain that words can not adequately describe.

Grief is a process, no timeline, no stages, and there is no way of getting around it.  It is a process and no matter how hard you try to avoid, pretend, or portray, it is there.  Right there waiting!  Birthdays, anniversaries, traumaversaries,  smells, songs, sights, places, people, things you would never think of that bring that grief raging to the surface to be addressed.  Grief knows no social class, time or place, in fact it knows no etiquette. It rises up at the mall, work, home, school, and church.  It looks different for everyone, behaviors (from kids to adults) crying, sobbing, withdrawing, moodiness, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, looks like depression and ADHD, and more.

In the western world, on average people get 6 weeks for surgery, days and weeks for a broken bone, but for a shattered heart that can not be seen, we get three days.  Three days for the death of someone we can prove is close enough in our blood line. Zero days for all other losses.  This is telling of how grief is perceived and viewed and directly impacts the way we deal as a a society, as communities, as churches, as families and friends.  You know that awkward, hard, awkward, uncomfortable feeling you get when you are "with" someone who has experienced a loss,think back, who taught you how to grieve? How old were you?  

Have you heard time heals all pain (grief just takes time), if you are going to cry, go to your room (be alone), we will get another one when a pet died or a bike was stolen(replace the loss), or what about be strong for mother, brother, wife, husband, father, sibling, etc (your pain is less or not as important or feeling is pain is weak) OR stay busy and don't think about it (like if you don't think about it its not REAL or there).  Don't feel bad you did all you could (like you had the power to change the outcome).  These are the 6 most common myths we learn as children.  Amazingly enough our brains were designed to process grief, just watch a child experience a loss without the influence of adults who have been reprogrammed.  It is an amazingly beautiful experience, its normal and natural to grieve a loss, nothing is wrong, nothing requires fixing or replacing, it only requires experiencing the normal and natural process.

My goal is to help others BE with someone who has experienced a loss and not let it be about you, but them. To LET GO of the message you must fix it, change it, or take it away.  As a parent who has lost a child, if I could "get over it already" let me assure you that is the first thing I would be doing.  Grieving is exhausting and lonely!  I have lost many people in my "supposed circle of support and I continue to lose people who think it has been long enough, that I need to move on, that I am moody, apathetic, sad, depressed and even angry, sensitive, and indecisive.  ALL true statements that I am moody, apathetic, sad, depressed and even angry, sensitive, and indecisive.  I will add, I cry alone and in public, and I'm still not over it.  NO, because I can not just get over it and move on.

Am I progressing? Absolutely!
Is it quick enough for others or most? Absolutely not! 
Do I appear just fine at times? You bet I do! 
Am I just fine? Do you have all day?

Sadly, I am not alone, it is not uncommon to experience more loss while grieving a LOSS because it just doesn't work for others.  Yes, it adds salt to wounds and complicates grief. (Complicated grief is something in and of itself, for another day.) Reality is my circle of support has become smaller and honestly, only gets smaller.  Its sad, I grieve, I feel anger and rage, but I am better for it.  I do not have the energy or ability to manage others needs for me.  Shedding of relationships that can not withstand the storms of life allows room for ones that can. I have gained people,  people who love me, appreciate that they can not fix, change, or make things go away, but that they can give me a hug, send me a text that says, "I love you or just checking in."  We have people who have prayed and fasted for us that we don't even know.  Yes, that makes me cry too.  

It is my desire to encourage you not to avoid that loved one, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or stranger who has experienced a loss, just BE with them, be honest, don't quote the cliches that cause more feelings of "something is wrong with me and I need to be fixed."

HONESTLY eye contact with a smile or a warm hello or simply saying "I have no idea what you are experiencing and I can only imagine."  If you want to relate further add, "I only know what I felt when I experienced a loss." Eye contact is comforting, so many people avoid people who are grieving.  Trust me I am not paranoid.  I bet many people can share the experience of seeing someone they know at a store and "catching them" go the other way, ok, ok, maybe that was you because you did not know what to say or do.  Do't beat yourself up, now you know how to respond different, better, more.

No words will take away the intensity of the immense pain.  That is not your role.  Your role is to offer support in the form of a hug, a visit, a meal, a text, a call, a suggested "I am going to come get you and take you for a ride, a walk, or I would like to just come sit with you.  I would like to come clean your bathrooms or wash your floors, or heck your whole house, which day is best? Start with 2 days and if those days don't work, offer other times. No expectations. Say, "I really just want to support you and I don't know how or what that looks like." Making decisions in the midst of grief is hard, so keep expectations low and be ok with feeling awkward and uncomfortable.  If it is your desire to truly support someone, don't say, "I am here call me if you need anything." Consider yourself informed, IT WILL NOT HAPPEN!  Individuals grieving do NOT know what they need or if they do how to ask for it.  

To those I have lost.  I forgive you!

To those I have gained in a variety of ways.  I appreciate you!

To those who have been on this journey from the beginning and stuck it out and not given up on what some consider "a hopeless mess" I love you and want you to know your time and energy has not been in vain or gone unnoticed, but has been that encouragement I have needed to grieve and grow.  

Real relationships are messy.  Requiring authenticity, vulnerability, being raw, the good, the bad, the ugly folks.  

The next time you are aware of someone experiencing a loss, reach out.  You will survive.  It is ok if you feel like you want to jump out of your skin, you will not.  You will offer a gift. A gift that says you matter, your pain matters, your normal. You are NOT ALONE.