When I planned this 3-part series, I have no idea it’d be such a challenge to write this article. I scolded myself, “You idiot, you could have chosen something else to write.”
To begin with, I don’t even wanna attempt to tell you that “I got this”. That because of my personal experience with grief and intense pain, I know what to do to support someone in anguish.
Secondly, to write about it, I had to relive my own pain which has never really gone away, yet. And this is how complex and multi-layered a person’s grief and pain can be.
So, I’m gonna write from this approach—what I wished I could have experienced from others when I was in my darkest pain.
Before we begin to offer support to a grieving or hurting person, firstly, please be mindful of what not to say to them.
If you haven’t read the previous article, you can dive into the 2 minutes read here: 3-part series 1/3: What not to say to a grieving or hurting person
Let’s begin by understanding a few things:
It is difficult and highly uncomfortable to bear the anguish of others.
As mentioned in last week’s article, we are wired to want order, control, comfort, and when things are out of whack, we want to fix it.
We want the person who’s in anguish to feel better. But offering opinions, advice, cliched phrases will make the person feel even worse.
The flipside to this—because we don’t know what to say or what to do, we might end up ignoring the grieving person, pretending that nothing happened, or we stay silent.
Can I offer us some relief through this fact? —Nothing we can do will take the pain away from a grieving or hurting person.
We can’t put the broken pieces together. We can’t fix it. The pain must be borne by the person. But he or she doesn’t have to be bear it alone.
The question to ask ourselves: Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to be brave in love? Do we dare to be vulnerable? To stand beside our friend or family, knowing that while we can’t help to fix the pain, we can offer empathy and step into their suffering.
If we are willing to be brave, here’s the key to supporting a grieving or hurting person:
We must learn to bear the uneasiness of our inability and helplessness to fix the situation.
The most important thing we can do to support a grieving or hurting person:
Offer presence and patience. No one should have to go through pain alone.
Pain is like a mega vacuum, sucking everything you’ve got from deep within…
everything that has colour and life, forcefully extracted from you, leaving this cave of darkness and nothingness in you.
It’s excruciatingly isolating as the world and people around you became aliens.
I still can see the memory of myself in the room where my colleagues gathered on Tuesdays for church staff devotion.
I can see the back of myself, all dressed in black, (don’t ask me why; I just couldn’t bear any colours then) standing within a circle of people who were singing worship songs to the Lord.
I tried to break from the circle by standing a few steps behind; the proximity with others made my pain more challenging because I had to fight harder to not be overcome by my emotions. My head hung low as the singing continued, though I can control myself from sobbing, I can’t control the tears and snots that were dripping down too fast to be wiped away.
The same with my church’s new small group. Week after week, as we sang worship songs, my head hung low in nothingness, tears dripped onto my shirt, alone in my pain among a new group of people I have yet to build trust in.
Through the dark times, I had a handful of people who knew what happened, and who had exchanged text messages of comfort and support. For that, I’m so thankful.
But I wonder if physical presence or even phone calls would offer more solace?
Ways to be present
If we wanna support someone who’s grieving, we must be consciously patient, with ourselves, our good intentions and the other person. Bear with the uneasiness of listening to their anguish without offering advice.
We may have to be with the person, as long as it takes, through tears, through when they express their anger, disappointment, hopelessness and confusion. The process is not linear. There’s no fixed timeline for when anyone should get out of grieving.
It changes sometimes from day-to-day. We must be patient to the friend who seemed ok yesterday but has slumped to a low today. Sometimes, we have to offer a listening ear or even just being present in silence.
If a person can be raw and grief without shame or trying to hold themselves together for the sake of being a comfort to you (see how ironic this is?), he or she might have higher chances of healing better and faster. It’s those who suppressed their pain who had to wear the chain for a much longer time.
Sometimes, our friend wants some normalcy in his or her’s mayhem and we have to be the same, usual person who your friend hangs out with over a meal or drink.
Give the person space yet let them know you will be around. It’s normal for us to not know what to do and in what measure; when should we ask, when we should we not?
We can be open and say, “I’m here if you wanna talk about it. And I’m ok if you don’t and wanna talk about something else for now.”
Offer help but be specific. “Let me know if you need help” is not making it easier for the person.
Offer specific help like, “I can bring dinner over on weekdays, but I don’t want to interfere. Please let me know whether you want me to do this or you want to do this yourself. I’m happy to help.”
I hope these guidelines will give us the courage to be present in love with someone going through grief and pain.
Oh ya. Presence and present are sometimes a beautiful match. Bringing a gift of chocolate, a bottle of wine (exercise some discernment though), or the griever’s favourite food can help to increase the physical comfort for him or her.