It’s not what you say; it’s what you do.
Every now and then, I smack my head for saying the dumbest thing. ”I should have said this not that,” I exult. Since I write http://mamaquest.org, a blog about losing my mother, and run http://trauma2art.com, a site about creative expression after loss, I should know exactly what to say when someone tells me about their experience in grieving. I don’t actually. We all experience something different even if the themes are the same.
I have some standard phrases that I use when someone first loses a loved one. As a general practice I always say three things. I am sorry for your loss. I am here for you. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. What I’ve found that it’s less about what you say and more about being an available listener. Moreover, it’s about being a good friend.
A common mistake that I’ve observed being made, or talked about ad nauseum, is this idea that only people who have gone through the same thing can help someone get through grief. Whether you are the consoler or the person being consoled, you just show up to your job as friend. Whether you end up saying something stupid or ill timed is far less important from being a reliable, confidante and friend. There is no secret to being a good friend. I follow a simple philosophy. When someone calls, I listen. When someone needs a favor, I oblige. When someone asks for my opinion, I give it. When someone asks to hear about my experience, I tell it. When someone needs my presence, I show up. I do these things out of love without wanting or expecting anything in return.
Just because everyone has a unique story to tell doesn’t mean we want to be isolated. Our individuality doesn’t bind us. We bond more consistently and fervently over our similarities. By design we humans long for community.
Action Speaks Louder than Words
After my mother passed away I went through a phase of backwards thinking. I thought, ‘No one cares about me. No one understands.’ Partly I assumed that no one really wanted to hear about what was going on in my head. I was in such a negative place and I never wanted to subject anyone else to my crappy mood. That, I thought, was me being a good friend. Once I stopped creating a hierarchical system of people who understand and people who don’t understand, I saw an overarching need to not only build a support system but also to maintain this system all the time no matter the circumstance.
Plus once I started taking action and reaching out to people, I saw an abundance of love and support come back. Maureen Hunter, author of Stepping through Grief, said it best, “Grief strips us of our power to think, be and do. You can change this, you are in control of you.”
Lauren Muscarella 2011