Grief is a Process
Grief is a process. There is no escaping it. Oh yes, there is delaying it. But that is not the same as avoiding it—it’s just a postponement. There’s really no delicate way to say this and so here it is: Grief sucks. She’s an ugly monster who tries to drown you, who humiliates you in the grocery store and at family gatherings, who rips your beating heart straight from your chest and keeps you up at night.
“So, Stacey, how are you feeling? So, can I ask what your symptoms are?”
On the surface, I’m sure these questions seem fairly benign. Unless, of course, you are in the throes of grief. Then these questions are the equivalent to being asked to strip down naked and put on a little show in a crowded room or to rip the scab off of your wound and let those around you poke at your tender, bleeding flesh. You might as well say, “So, tell me about your greatest faults and failures.” Because to the person grieving their illness, symptoms feel like faults and they are very painful to talk about. Click To TweetThis would be similar to meeting someone for the first time and after shaking hands, asking, “Now tell me, have you ever been unfaithful to your spouse?” You would never do it. But you probably would ask someone about their symptoms over dinner.
Here’s the thing: Grieving looks different for everyone. For some, it’s obvious in that they can’t help but tell you that they are grieving. Others are very skilled at hiding their grief. They might make jokes about what’s going on, but beneath the surface is a tremendous amount of pain and they actually hate all of the questions and platitudes.
For the most part, I have processed my grief. These questions no longer send my heart racing or cause my lip to quiver. As a general rule, when people I don’t know ask about the intimate details of my health, I just find it rude and not devastating. When people tell me that “healing is available to me if I would only take it,” I just gag in my mouth a bit instead of crying and questioning my own lack of faith. I know who I am. I also know that healing is sometimes a process.
But for many who are still actively grieving, these things are really painful. How can you help those who might be in the throes of grief?
Stop asking questions: What feels benign to you, may feel very raw to the individual grieving. Let them share what they feel comfortable sharing, when they feel comfortable sharing it. Allow plenty of room for processing before sharing. The last thing you want is for them to feel suffocated and pressured, along with their grief. You want your relationship to be a safe place.
Meet them in their grief: This may mean sitting in silence while they cry. It may mean validating their grief. It does not mean offering religious platitudes that make you feel more comfortable and invalidate their grief (i.e. God picks the most beautiful flowers first so you should be glad your flower got picked and stop whining). This isn’t about whether or not the religious statements are true or not, it’s about the fact that they don’t help in these moments.
Don’t rush the grief: Just because you are tired of hearing about something or feel that someone should handle it a certain way doesn’t change their grieving process. Remember, it looks different for all of us.