Over the last months we have seen and for many experienced devastation to homes, the loss of loved ones, wildlife, habitats and beloved communities. Such deep and overwhelming loss is difficult to fathom, let alone address on a daily basis. No one teaches us firstly, how to be with our own grief and secondly, how to support others well through their grief process.
Supporting Others in their Grief
Long after emergency services have departed, insurance companies made assessments and the regrowth begins to appear after rain, we are left with the shock and overwhelming loss, resulting in grief. In many cases we do not have the internal resources to hold, metabolise or even recognise grief in ourself. We may become short tempered, unable to cope with the little things, erupting over the slightest inconvenience, argue and find ourselves emotionally swamped. All these are some of the signs of shock, grief and trauma.
As an outsider we often feel completely ill equipped to deal with another persons huge loss and the emotional toll it takes to rebuild from such devastation. You can’t fix it, as it is reality, but you can be there in ways that ensure the other is supported and resourced to get through it.
Leigh Sales author of “An Ordinary Day” interviewed people who had experienced unfathomable loss of family and shared her own experience of being supported. The key supportive behaviours was practical support, asking the hard questions like; How are you going to cope?, and not ignoring the other.
- Don’t ignore the person (they don’t have a disease so don’t act like they do). This is not about you.
- Casseroles never tired. Cook up a storm and pop around with it, simply drop them off
- Help with practical tasks: hanging out with someone is support
- Be specific about how you are going to help them, don’t wait for them to tell you – often we don’t have the capacity to cognitively organise our brain when overwhelmed!
- Allow for the sad, tears, rage. We all do grief differently. Sometimes we just need space to be held for us, a hug and a listening ear (acknowledge how it is for the other). Crying doesn’t mean you said anything wrong, it often means that the grief can be seen and met.
- Get together as a community to support a family
- Ask the question: “How are you going to cope?” “How are you today?” Lets face the reality of the immensity of the loss and put action plans into place together. Grief is a day by day gig.
- Be the person that appears at those hard times, just rock up with cake!
- What would you need if this happened to you – put yourself in the other persons shoes and follow through, don’t be scared.
- Be awkward; we don’t know what to say or do when facing immense loss if we haven’t been there. Awkward is ok.
- The park bench stance; just being there for someone is often enough. When grieving it can be a very isolating time. Simply be there however they are and however you are. No words are needed sometimes.
- Own your own ineptness!
- Don’t be afraid to talk about ‘it’
- Acknowledge what happened – pretending it didn’t happen, alienates the person.
Supporting Oneself Grieving
You are normal! Yes! Your emotional reactions may not feel normal right now, but these events are not an everyday experience, therefore we find ourself experiencing levels of overwhelm that are unfamiliar.
Everyone grieves differently! There is no set order or way in which we grieve. Giving oneself space, self compassion, and self empathy for the heart break to be experienced is essential. Grief is not something that can be intellectually counteracted, manoeuvred around, it has a life of its own and it does you. Meeting it as it is, and letting it find its way home within you is key to metabolising the experience.
Previously there was the belief that there stages of grieving but we are much more complex than that. Grief appears in many different ways, understanding and normalising how it appears in you is essential in developing self compassion. If unfamiliar with grief it may appear as anger, frustration, rage outbursts and addictive behaviours as we try and find ways to soothe our nervous system.
“Grief is not something we “get over” by following pre-prescribed stages, but a partner that we dance, play, honor, argue, and weep with as the cycles unfold. Its appearance and the ways it longs to be tended are unique for each psyche, heart, and nervous system.
The timeline for this voyage is not knowable by the psychiatric community, nor by insurance panels or teachers of spirituality, but is birthed in the heavens. To rush, force, or pathologize the experience of grief is to work against nature.
The grieving process may not have an endpoint or state of completion in which we come to some final resolution, where we “finish” and land in some untouchable place, free from our embodied vulnerability, somatic aliveness, and from falling apart and breaking open yet again.
While some may hold this fantasied end state as a goal which comes about as we “master” life, the heart is not interested in mastery. But in entering the mystery in more subtle and sensitive ways.” Matt Lucia
There are many ways meeting grief mindfully can support its integration and the deep wisdom that comes from honouring its place in our life. Here are a few and it is encouraged that you add your own here too.
- Give yourself the freedom to be emotional – however that looks like, ensuring you and others are safe
- Understand ways grief appears and acknowledge that is how it moves in you
- Give yourself space, reach out for support, and offer oneself compassion to collapse if needed.
- Create self care rituals – that support you, your feelings
- Feel it – grief truly surrendered to, moves through you in a way that a stream finds its way back to the ocean, let it have room within you so you can return to peace
- Own your needs – tell people what you need, reach out and ask – it helps others know what to do too.
- Talk about what happened with others who have experienced the same, find that support group, community so that your experience can be normalised and held fully.
- Remember, let the memories have room. Blocking things out doesn’t make them go away!
- Create a ritual that honours the end of something, whether it is a loss of property, person or environmental – rituals help us meet reality and honour that life is different now.
- Listen to those parts in you that are trying to get your attention and give them a voice, hold their hand and understand their needs, whilst allowing room for whatever feelings arise.
- Reach out to a professional – often a counsellor will have resources, help normalise grief and help the mind understand what is happening, and give room for the heart to heal. Find one that gets you!
- Know that the overwhelming feelings will not last forever, and that is not denying what happened, happened.