In the wake of tragedies such as Sunday’s horrifying mass shooting in Orlando, a heavy wave of grief has washed over our country. The murder of 49 innocent people and the injuring of many more brings to light the power and necessity of public mourning and by extension, public healing.
Mourning is the public expression of grief, and as such, it is an invitation to others to be present in that grief. This is of particular relevance to the healing community, whose members may find themselves at a loss when confronted with such deep suffering as those coping with the passing of a loved one. It can be difficult to know what to say to a grieving person, or how to enter their world. Grief is lonely, and grief can be isolating. No one experiences it in the same way. But there are ways to be present and supportive of those grieving that transcend one’s individual experience of loss.
The old model of grief support revolved around the idea of what one can do for the mourner: how can one fix their sadness? This idea of the giver and receiver of comfort creates a distance between them, because it posits a relationship in which the griever must be accepting and appreciative of that which the comforting friend wishes or is able to give. The intention is good, but the execution may be wildly different from what the griever actually needs or wants. It also frames comfort and healing in an artificial way--a back and forth. Grief is ongoing, and support should be as well.
Rather than being there “for” a person, we should now talk about being there “with” them. This tells them, I am present in your grief. I am here if you need me, but I don’t require anything of you. I don’t need you to tell me what you need, or to make it easier for me to be there. I am just with you and care about you.
Here are some ways to be a comfort to those suffering from loss, but there are many more.
- Be present and engaged in the person’s grief, but never forget that it is theirs. You don’t need to know exactly how they feel or to have suffered a similar loss in order to be present in their grief with them, and to let them know they can depend on you. Some concrete ways to do this are to invite them to spend time with you, but don’t be offended or hurt if they decide they cannot, even if it’s at the last minute. They may have felt fine until just as they were leaving their house. Grief comes in waves, and they may have just been hit by one. Don’t make them feel guilty. Check in the next day and let you know you’re thinking of them.
- Bring them food. The classic image of a house overrun with casseroles and salads in the wake of a funeral is common because it is something small we can offer in the time of pain. And often grieving people may forget to or feel unmotivated to eat.
- Don’t be afraid to mention their loss (in a delicate way), but remember that not every conversation needs to revolve around their grief. The human spirit is difficult to quell entirely, so even in the depths of sadness humor and joy can find a way.
- If you have stories about their loved one, tell them. If you have memories, tell them. The stories and memories are a non-renewable resource. There will be no new stories, so they will be thirsty to hear of anything about the person who is gone. Even if it makes them sad in the present, it’s far better to have told them a lovely memory you have of someone than to avoid upsetting the griever.
After the mass shooting on June 12th, pictures of the victims, their family, and a nation of grieving people have flooded the internet. A city and a community in mourning have been comforted by simple acts, such as therapy dogs sitting and just being with them. Outpouring from others in the nation, both in the LGBTQIA community and not. A solidarity has emerged and tells the mourners, we are with you. We mourn with you.
Leave comments here or contact Jesa at email@example.com