Wednesday, March 9, 2011

There Are No Words

If you've ever encountered a friend in grief, I'm sure you've done what I've done in the past, you've searched for the "right" words to say. Trying to find something that will comfort them, give them hope. And I know you mean well, I did too. Now that we walk in grief, here are a few tips I've learned about the words of other people:
1. Please say something. Anything! It's difficult, I know, for them and for you. You're wanting to help and worried about hurting them more or making them cry*. But saying anything is better than saying nothing. It allows those who are grieving to know that you care that they are hurting and it matters to you. Saying something communicates that you notice, that you hurt with them and think of them, that you love them enough to be brave and open your mouth. Saying nothing doesn't communicate anything.
             *Side note: When someone is in grief, tears are part of life. The person who is grieving is probably more OK with crying than you are. So I wouldn't worry about making them cry. My own tears are usually just below the surface, they are a part of my daily life now. Its more about you being OK with the fact that they may cry. And that they may not. Tears are funny that way.

2. There is nothing you can say that will make her/him feel better. No magic words to take all the sorrow away. So take the pressure off of yourself and just know that you won't find "the perfect words" to say. Because there aren't any. Let yourself off that hook. "I just don't have any words" may be one of the best things you can say. The point is that you are showing love, that you are entering their pain and accept the fact that you can not fix it. That's a big part of it I think, its hard to grieve with someone because you want to fix it, fix them, help make it all better. But you can't. Again, get off that hook.

3. Don't talk like a hallmark card, in fact  I'd avoid cliches completely (unless you naturally walk around speaking in that that case, do your thing, I guess). Just be yourself, be honest and empathetic. Take time to imagine what their life is like and how you would feel if in their shoes.

4. Ask real questions, express real cares. If you ask me "how are you?" I may tell you I'm fine, or that I'm getting through the day. And that's the end of that. If you really want to know what's going on in my head, ask me something specific (it takes pressure off me from having to figure out if you really want to know how I am doing or are just being polite). Ask me about my son, about how Emma and Hazen are handling the stress, about what made me smile today or what made me cry. Tell me you thought of us when you were out shopping and saw newborn clothes, or that my family came to your mind when you were cooking dinner last night. You get the idea. Jairus is never far from our minds, and I'm sure your friend's mind is never far from their loved one/situation either. So don't worry about 'bringing it up'. Your friend is probably thinking about what happened anyway. Join them.

5. Assess the scene. If the person is in a hurry, or has to pick up the kids, maybe it's not a good time for a full blown heart-to-heart. But again, see #1.

6. Actions do speak louder than words. A hug communicates volumes. Tears more so. Stepping in with help, whether it be food, cleaning, childcare, coffee, that's really priceless (and humbling). We couldn't get through the day without these kinds of practical supports from others. If you do want to offer some kind of practical help, offer something specific. Fresh grief fogs the mind, so "if there's anything you need" is more difficult to respond to than, "I'd like to watch your kids, what day this week works best?" or "Next time it snows I'll come over and help you dig out, I'll call before I come."

Find ways to let your friend know you are thinking about them. If you don't, they'll never know. And they need to. Those in grief need to understand that what they are experiencing is real and justified and that they are not alone. I always tell the kids, 'no one knows what you're thinking unless you say it with your mouth.' I think it's good to keep in mind.

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