Showing up is more important than speaking up.

One of the most common questions I’m asked when people find out I’m a grief counselor, is, “My friend’s dad just died. What could I say to him?”

Often, additional information is supplied, such as, “It’s been three months and he can’t seem to get past it.” Or, “He doesn’t seem to be able to stop crying. What can I do to help him?”

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you heard this–or said this–before?

Showing up is more important than speaking up. Presence packs more punch than pronouncements. Being there is more significant than saying the right thing.

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I’m talking about shifting the focus of our comfort/care away from the content of our words to the delivery of our presence. But many of us are uncomfortable in our own skin and are more apt to live our lives focused on performance instead of being. We fix instead of listen; we work instead of rest; we are constantly on the move, trying to distance ourselves from the present, not knowing how to exist in THIS moment.

See. Just when I finally start to feel comfortable in my own skin, this happens.

This pressure from within keeps us “on the move” and away from “the now.” Which explains why we want to say something instead of being quietly present with someone.  We find it challenging listening to them speak, even at length, sometimes the same story repeatedly, without giving in to the urge to respond, to question, to evaluate, to correct, to fix or to make things better.

There are times when words are foundational and necessary. When a friend or acquaintance tells us a loved one has passed, we had better have a ready response. “My heart goes out to you!” is better at such a time than, “What happened?” or “How did she die?” There’s a time for those questions but in the beginning, our first task is to receive the news. Receive the news. To welcome the sad information into a heart prepared for the inevitability of pain in someone’s life.

However, once a death occurs, a journey begins, a trek through an uncharted wilderness of grief and disorientation. There is no map, because no one has walked this precise route before. And, once the news has been delivered and received, I become a companion on that journey! Even though we may have suffered a loss, we don’t know how the griever is feeling. Perhaps declaring that isn’t the best idea! What we mean when we say, “I know how you feel,” (to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt) is that, at best we remember how we felt when we experienced a loss. But to be in the moment, our loss must not become the focus of our connection: their experience now stands front and center and is the object of our care.

So, we actively listen for the following:

  • What happened?
  • Was the loss sudden or expected?
  • How has this loss impacted our friend? (We cannot assume that if it was sudden that it has devastated our friend; nor should we assume that if it was an expected passing, that they aren’t blown away.)
  • How are they coping with it?
  • What are their resources?
  • Are they asking for help in coping? (For help of me, or for a referral?)
  • What do they need?

And, we patiently listen to the whole story, never in a hurry to respond, communicating through conscious body language that we have all the time in the world for our friend and that they have made a wise decision to entrust this burden to us!

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More on shifting our caring focus down the road:

  • How do we shift our focus from words to presence?
  • What does active listening look like? (Body Language)
  • What does active listening sound like? (Asking good questions which help the griever to explore his/her own loss.)
  • How do I explore my grief wilderness?
  • Is what I’m going through normal? I feel like I’m going crazy.

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Need to talk to the counselor? Book an “in office” or “on line” session here.

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