December 03, 2021
In my time as an Interfaith minister and spiritual counselor in NYC, I have seen grief in all its forms and the truth is, not everyone processes it the same way.
People’s needs and desires during the most difficult periods of their lives tend to vary and fluctuate. However, the one thing that should always be consistent is the way we offer our support. Too often, we tend to say and do things that are at best, cliché and at worst, dismissive and narcissistic. Sadly, this is because we’ve never been taught differently. We are a culture that is deeply uncomfortable with the concept of expressing or being witness to grief so we do our best to avoid it.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our consolation skills are a reflection of that. Here are a few simple guidelines for offering comfort to the grieving in meaningful, effective ways.
1. Listen and hold space. This is the greatest gift you can ever give another human being. Be present, compassionate and let them do the talking. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence together, lay your hand on theirs or offer a hug. There is great healing that can come from sitting quietly or simply allowing them to cry without interruption.
2. This is not about you. Let me repeat - this is not about you. Even if you’ve experienced something that seems relatable to their situation, refrain from talking about it. If they’ve just lost a parent, there’s no need to discuss how much you suffered when your mother died.
3. Avoid common phrases like, “everything happens for a reason, he’s in a better place, this too shall pass”, and so on. Being witness to pain can be uncomfortable so we go into auto pilot and will rely on what we think we’re supposed to say. Try to avoid that and speak from the heart. “I’m so sorry that you’re hurting, I’m here and I love you” is much more sincere.
4. When they get angry (and they will at some point) and talk about how unfair life is, don’t try to explain it away... on the contrary, it’s best to simply agree. When I’m asked how “God can do this”, rarely are they expecting a response. If I’m pressed (which isn’t often) I will say with sincerity, “I just don’t know.” The truth is, people aren’t usually looking for answers, they just need to be heard. Avoid projection that can come from personal pain or a need to “fix everything”.
5. If you want to offer real support, be genuinely proactive. “Call if you need anything” is not proactive—and they’re never going to call. The better approach would be to call and say, “I have prepared a meal for you and your family and would like to bring it by around 5:00, does that work for you?”
Grief has many stages and manifests in different ways. Whether you’re dealing with death, a break up or job loss, the best consolation you can offer is simply your non opinionated, non- fixing, non-judgmental presence, compassion and love.
November 24, 2021