Last week we re-posted from 2016 a piece by Dr. Carlea Dries on coping with holiday grief. This year Carlea would also like to add her thoughts on how best to help others who are grieving, not only during the holidays, but anytime. Note the emphasis on actions.
REACHING OUT TO THE GRIEVING
It seems that when the topic of personal grief comes up, especially during the holidays, most of the emphasis is directed at those who have suffered a loss. What’s often overlooked is giving some guidance to those who want to reach out and provide care for others who are working through loss and grief.
Along those lines, I (Carlea) think it’s important to try and avoid “conversational narcissism,” or making it all about you. This is a fairly common action of making your experience the center of conversation, which distracts everyone from the original focus. An example would be sharing your own story of loss, comparable or not, with someone you were trying comfort. Thus, you might say something like, “I remember when my dog died. I got over it by getting a new dog. That’s all you need to do.” Or, “I remember when my husband died. I joined a social club and met all kinds of new people, even some interesting gentlemen!”
Of course, when you say such things you are trying to help by giving suggestions and a message of hope. Unfortunately, you may actually be interrupting sufferers from “feeling their grief,” something they must allow themselves to do. Also, comments like those above run the risk of trivializing the situation for the grieving party. “That’s all you have to do.” Your molehill may be a mountain for the grieving. Remember, your comments are coming from a context of having already dealt with your grief. Your listener, however, is not there yet, but is still in the “dealing with it” phase. You can be their “coping Sherpa” but on their schedule, not yours.
Another danger with conversational narcissism is that listeners may think you are judging them for their grief. You comments may make them feel weak, inferior, guilty, and incapable of coping with their grief.
In interactions with those feeling loss, instead of focusing on you, try to find ways to provide support in more neutral ways: Deliver a meal; send a care package; shovel the sidewalks or driveway; do a load of laundry. Remember, your grieving friends will eventually be ready to move on from “feeling their grief” to “acting their grief” in positive ways. In fact, as they move toward active strategies to re-engage with life in ways that fit their needs and personality, they may even ask for your advice or opinion about the types of things you did to cope.
The other day, I (Carlea) was speaking with a veteran who gave an interesting perspective on how he continues to cope with the losses he experienced while in the service many years ago:
“I celebrate their memories by fulfilling their bucket lists. I do what I can to continue their lives. I give hope for those who are lacking it. I don’t attend pity parties. I read to those who lost sight because even though I lost things, I still can see. I get groceries for those who lost limbs. I do what good I can because there was a reason I was spared.”