By Beth L. Hewett, PhD, CT
When we’re grieving and want support from a grief companion, it’s important to choose helpers who understand grief, purposeful mourning, soulful and spiritual work, and grief facilitation. The following are a few things to consider when seeking such support.
They can walk with us but not carry us or tell us where and how to go about our mourning work.
They can make us aware of potholes in the road, and if we fall into the holes anyway, they can help us get back out to begin journeying again.
They can host light for us by beaming it ahead, making the unfamiliar road at least somewhat visible and perhaps a little less scary.
They can share images of what grief might look and feel like and how it can rise and fall and integrate within human hearts.
They can teach us to engage mourning activities like rituals and ceremony that open grieving hearts to healing love.
They should learn something about our different cultural backgrounds and how we experience grief, honoring that experience as crucial to our own healing.
They should become aware of how their own grief experiences both can be helpful and harmful to others and thereby learn when and how to speak or remain quiet.
They must have boundaries, learning how to be open to other’s grief, needs, and pain without becoming the permanent vessels of that pain.
They should have a personal code of ethics that takes in what it means to accompany the bereaved.
They must learn how to provide safety and build trust.
They should be able to listen carefully to accompany, enable, or assist us.
They should learn when to speak and when to listen, when to sit still and when to walk with us.
They should allow us to speak of the many losses encompassed in any one loss and the many realities of grief that comprise our lives.
They should learn to work with groups, individuals, and families with different dynamics and needs.
They should learn how to sit still and to be with and love the broken hearted without too soon talking about—well, talking about anything.
They should learn about the emotional openness of tears, screams, hugs, and physical closeness versus when to employ thoughtful restraint.
They should know that while grief is not a manifestation of mental illness, sometimes grief—and trauma—may tap into our existing mental health issues; thus, they should learn whether and when to refer us to other helpers.
They should learn for themselves healthy ways to live in the present—such as developing and using relaxation techniques—so they can avoid being traumatized by others’ pain.
They should learn to make meaning in their own lives, wrapping their own hearts around their losses; then, they can begin to see our losses as inherently connected to love.
They should embody their feelings and own them fully, making them more thoughtful, hopeful, and loving toward themselves, modeling how we can accept our very real human pain.
They should offer strategies for individualized meaning making based on our unique experiences of grief.
They can become love in action as both model and guide.
Grief is the cost of love, but we would never choose not to have loved those whom we mourn in order to avoid grief itself. Deep down, we who grieve know this truth. Our grief companions should know it, too.