(Podcast available July 15, 2022)
People can feel grief over ANY loss. Any time our life changes in away where we feel like we are letting go of a piece of us, we grieve. We can even grieve endings of our relationships with unhealthy behavior and thought patterns, people, places, and things. EVERYONE grieves! There is NOTHING wrong with feeling grief, so why do we feel so uncomfortable when people are grieving? Why do we deny ourselves our right to grieve?
To listen with love means to accept people where they are. If a person is grieving, it means not trying to force them to move past their grief if that is where they are. When we attempt to make a person feel better, they often feel dismissed.
Grief is tricky though, because people grieve so differently. We may be able to say certain things to one person and not to another. Just like anything else, there is no one size fits all. That’s why listening with love is so important when it comes to grief.
If someone else is grieving, follow their lead. Let them tell you where they want to go with the conversation. We have to listen with love in order to do this. If who or what they are grieving was a part of their everyday lives, or their were challenges in the relationships, their grief is going to have many layers. Feeling through each layer is a part of the process.
We’re not helping a grieving person by supporting them numbing, avoiding, or running from their feelings. We actually run a greater risk of making things worse because doing that can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and loneliness on top of their grief. They might feel guilt and/or shame about going on with life without whoever or whatever has left them. This is where listening to their stories with love comes in. When we can listen and repeat back key things we notice like feelings, humor, a moment, etc., we allow the person to sit in their connection to who and/or what they are grieving.
One of the things I try to remember is that I don’t know what is going on in someone else’s mind unless I give them the space to express it. If they don’t want to that’s okay. If they do, I want them to know that I love and support them wherever they are. The mixed feelings of grief can pop-up out of nowhere sometimes. There are times it will take a lot of digging to even KNOW that what we or others are feeling is a part of the grieving process.
For a long time, I held guilt around my lack of grieving over my dad’s passing and my immense grief over his long time love’s death. I didn’t even know that what I was feeling was a part of the grieving process until I finally broke down and went to therapy. I spent months using all my self-care tools to feel better, and NOTHING was working. It took a therapist doing a lot of digging to figure it out. She wasn’t trying to get me to be anywhere different than I was, she just listened and made sure I was naming my feelings as they came up. That’s how she started putting the pieces together. Once we knew it was grief, I could allow myself to be in my grief, and that’s when things began shifting. I began feeling like myself again.
Even after doing all that work, I still was holding back the guilt about not feeling like I grieved my dad. At the time of his death, I was in survival mode. A few months after he died, I uprooted my life and started over. At the time, it wasn’t safe for me to grieve. Over a decade after his passing, I was filling-in for facilitator, Sherry Richert-Belul, on Mango Publishing’s Heart Wisdom Panel when I finally got clarity. The panel was on grief. There were two featured authors. I read both of their books and within their pages, I realized I was also grieving my dad when his partner died. It wasn’t that I was grieving her more. I was in a safe place to grieve, so all the grief came pouring out. It’s probably why it was so much harder to process it on my own. There are so many layers to grief.
If we are accustomed to shoving our feelings down, our grief can leak out in many unhealthy ways. In episode 4, I talked about the importance of feeling our feelings. We aren’t serving ourselves or anyone else by pretending we don’t feel what we feel. Comparing the way we grieve to others can leave us feeling more pain. This is why listening is key. We can and will have different experiences with our grief. It’s important that each person grieving feels seen and heard.
It’s rare that we will be able to say the right thing to a grieving person, so the best we can do is to be there in our presence. Most times people understand that we are doing the best we can in the situation. Other times, a grieving person will lash out as a part of their grief. It’s not personal. They are hurting. Whether we are in person or far away, being present in the conversation is what matters.
Listen with love, ask questions with love, and respond to their needs with love. It’s not love when we insist on our own way through someone else’s grieving process.
What is important is that we don’t dismiss anyone’s grief no matter what they are grieving. Since the pandemic, a multitude of kids are grieving from not getting to experience specific rites of passage like graduations and dances. Some are grieving the feeling of safety in their schools. Listening with love is about not dismissing their feelings.
Many of us are grieving old ways of life. Things change, and with change comes grief. Attacking a person who is grieving says something about us, not them. It doesn’t matter what they are grieving, that’s their business. How we behave towards them is our business. We have to live with our choices.
I can only ever do the best I can in the moment. If I’m not capable of showing up the way someone needs me, I trust there is someone who will. If I try to be there for someone, and it just doesn’t work out, I trust that I was not meant to be there. If I show up in someone’s grief, I trust that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve stopped and listen to strangers talk about their losses. Things work out if they meant to be. Sometimes, we are not meant to be somewhere because if we were, something that was meant to happen wouldn’t happen. I refuse to beat myself up trying to fight reality. If I’m the one that’s meant to be there, I’m there.
Listening with love is a skill that takes practice especially during the times when people we love are suffering. When it comes to grief, we can’t fix their pain. They have to feel their way through it in their own time. The best thing we can do for the people we love is get comfortable with our own feelings, so that we don’t dismiss other people’s right to feel what they feel.
Many times in grief we face our own dark places. Feelings of buried shame may surface. If we listen to ourselves with love, we can integrate our own feelings of grief and let go of the shame that keeps us prisoners.
With Love and Gratitude,