Written by Julie Taylor
Knowing how to navigate our way through grief, how to stop grieving and how best to support someone we love who is going through grief – is the subject of many self-help books. Grief is such a painful place to be and when we or someone we love is in that place, obviously in so much pain, our desperation to understand how to overcome grief and ‘do it right’ is palpable.
I remember feeling downright desperation when I had to stand by and watch my husband go through horrible pain when his brother was killed in an avalanche. Loss is always difficult to bear let alone the sudden loss of someone young and healthy. I sought advice on how to overcome grief and what to do to best support my husband from doctors, counsellors, psychologists and friends. No-one really had helpful answers for me. What are the best things we can do in a situation like this?
I have never seen the emptiness and sense of loss expressed better than when I saw the play ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’. I’ve never heard expressed that there is no tangible way to relieve the gut wrenching sadness and ‘help’ a loved one in grief. Your presence is nonetheless vital and saying nothing is often ‘the right thing’.
Everything written and taught about this subject tries to ‘understand’ and ‘make sense’ of a period of time that is, quite honestly, without sense and impossible to understand. After severe loss – or trauma – there is at least a year when the thinking of those involved is nothing short of ‘magical’. There is no predictability, rhyme, reason or logic involved here.
How can we help someone we love to go through the terrible period of grieving? All we can do is stand by our loved one, listen to repeated eulogies or complaints, accept whatever feelings they experience – and know that it may take a year – or even 2 – before our loved one starts to function normally again. They need us just to love them, as unconditionally as possible. Allow them to follow their intuition, say nothing, listen deeply and just love them. Encourage them to stay with their grief – because within that experience are the pieces you need to rebuild.
We can offer some tools that encourage staying in the experience of grief and meditation, journaling and poetry fall into that category. All types of meditation are helpful – both for the bereaved and for those who have to stand by helplessly. Meditation is ‘time spent with yourself’ and therefore time spent going over that which you’re grieving. Trust that within you are all the answers you need. Along those lines grief journaling is also a very good idea – a chance to thoroughly debrief the experience or connection you are grieving.
Reading about the experiences of other people is often not interesting when you’re grieving but writing your own grief and loss poems may well be. These are often poignantly beautiful and helpful reminders to those in a help role.
Psychological theory surrounding grief has been addressed by many, perhaps most famously the Kubler Ross stages of grief which are outlined here. Stages of grief are no longer so popular – see ‘The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss’ by George A. Bonanno Ph.D. which is featured here along with Kubler Ross’s book ‘On Life after Death, revised by Elizabeth Kubler-Rossand Caroline Myss in 2008