Friday, February 27, 2015

How to Support a Griever

There is no time limit on grief. No handbook, either. No rule book that tells you how to DO this, how to live your life, how to function, how to be—nothing, nowhere, can articulate exactly what you are supposed to do after you lose someone so close to you that you literally shared DNA.

The last conversation I had with my mom was an argument. She was really pissed at me for something ridiculous, and she hung up on me as I was mid-sentence.

Tonight, that was triggered.

And it speaks to that desperation of losing someone in exactly the wrong moment: Please don't leave me like this. Not like this. Please...

Because, what if I never speak to you again? What if I never hear your voice again? You are important in my life, and I care about you and love you, and what if that was the very last conversation, ever?

At least make the ending something palpable.

At least try.

At least try not to be so fucking selfish that you just... disengage. Because if you’re hit by a bus before I see you again or talk to you again, you aren’t the one who has to live with that.

I am.

I have had a lot of realizations lately about what it really TAKES to be a witness, to be a true FRIEND, a true PRESENCE, to someone who has gone through the traumatic type of loss that I have experienced.

Here is what I have come to articulate:

To truly be present for someone who is grieving is a gift. It’s a gift to you, and it’s a gift to the griever.

To truly be present, please do not EVER make the grief about you. If you are witnessing grief, please understand that your role is to witness.

Your role is not to make it about you. Your role is not to turn the tables and share about the grief you are also experiencing. Because it is completely unrelated… and therefore not helpful or supportive to the current moment. I don't care how appropriate it seems in your mind. Unless the griever before you specifically asks you to share... just hold on to it. Your turn will come.

Your role is to be present. Fully.

And what that means is this:
  • Sit quietly. Receptive. Open. Willing.
  • Do not try to fix.
  • Do not try to change the subject to something more pleasant or less hard.
  • Do not try to think of the perfect thing to say.

(There is no perfect thing to say.


I realize… being fully present with someone who is actively grieving is incredibly, ridiculously difficult. It’s also one of the most amazing, precious, and appreciated gifts you can give to a griever.

I realize… it’s uncomfortable. Maybe even painful.

It’s hard.

You hate seeing this person in pain. You hate that you can’t do anything about it. You hate that you have no idea what to say. You hate that whatever you say is probably going to be wrong and poorly received.

That’s okay.

You don’t have to say a word.

In fact, that is often the greatest gift of all: silence.

Witnessing, allowing, being—connected, open, and vulnerable.

Intimate, real, and true.

And, yes—


Being fully present for someone who is experiencing intense grief is incredibly humbling.

But it not only incites humility, it requires it.

You must yield to the grief.

It is precious and beautiful, all on its own.

And the person grieving before you is the container that needs emptying.

Allow that pouring out. Create sacred space for it. Honor it.

And realize that no words you say will ever truly capture it, ease it, or tame it.

Grief, is, after all, ever-changing, like the ocean. Powerful, overtaking, and suffocating in one moment—light, playful, and free in the next moment.

It makes no sense.

The most important thing you can do is to allow those swift changes, allow those peaks and valleys and shifts. Allow the waves to roll, allow the undertow to pull you down. It’s going to, anyway, and putting up a fight is not only pointless—it’s exhausting.

And, oh yeah, by the way:

Do not take any of it personally.


It is never (ever!) about you.

I promise.