How do you console a person experiencing grief? Whether it is a loved one, a client, or coworker, the words never seem to be full enough to say enough; and the gifts, cards and flowers seem trivial when compared to what the person is experiencing. So, how can you help a person experiencing tragedy? In the past few months, several people I know have experienced loss of loved ones, illness, and tragic events beyond their control. Even this week, I received the sad news that my grandmother is in the hospital, and my cousin’s young daughter is having heart trouble. In my experience, folks have told me that the best thing to do is to just be there. The comfort comes from knowing you care, and that if they need you, you are there.
Once I had a client who lost her mother. She was beside herself, on the verge of a mental breakdown and virtually inconsolable. By the time I saw her, she looked as though her heart had been broken. She was tear-stained, with swollen, blood-shot eyes, she was hunched over as though she had nothing left, her words were almost a whisper, except when she began to express her grief and guilt. She felt as though she had not done enough for her mother, as though it was her fault her mother had passed away. These thoughts were expressed angrily, with force, as though she had to punish herself. After talking for a while, I asked her about her mother. I asked her to describe her, to tell the story of the love she shared with her mother, of how the life they lived together brought meaning and joy. I asked her what her mother would ask of her if she were here. This was an incredible narrative to witness. It gave her the opportunity to celebrate her mother’s life and honor her, while letting go of the guilt of the what-if’s that haunted her. During her time of grief, I gave her the only thing I could give – my time, my support, my ear. In that moment, that was enough. Neither of us could change what happened, but we made a choice in those moments to think differently.
The hardest things in life seem to be the things we have no control over. Think about when you have a deadline to meet, a job to do, an errand to run, or a meal to make. When you are in directly in charge of the result and the process, in other words – in control, it’s not as difficult to comprehend when you make a mistake. You learn from the error, let it go, and do things differently moving forward. It is when life throws you a curveball that you have to find a way to make peace with things that don’t seem to make sense. In the grand scheme of things do we really have control? And if we don’t, why spend the energy, time, and emotion making ourselves miserable over these curveballs? Don’t gt me wrong…a good cry always helps! But, what if we could find a way to process the pain more effectively and let it go? Think of it, honor it, then drop it. How would or could that change things? Finding meaning in the madness, the tragedy, or loss allows us to heal.
This amazing book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” was originally published in 1946, and written by Viktor Frankl, an Existential Therapist. He survived the concentration camps during the Holocaust and chronicles his experiences and how they relate to finding meaning in life. A quote from the book may offer insight into situations that may feel hopeless. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
The human spirit is an astoundingly powerful gift. For those who believe in a higher power, your faith guides and supports you during your suffering. For those who are unsure of a higher power, you may find other ways to heal. The common thread is freedom to make choices about how to proceed, through faith, loved ones, therapy, acts of kindness, volunteering, work, or other constructive patterns. Surrounding yourself with others who love and understand what you are going through may offer the opportunity to heal more effectively. Finding new ways to think about loss may also improve your mental well-being.
I found this website that has some really great info on grief, the five stages and tips for getting help: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm
You don’t have to go it alone. Please seek help from a mental health professional during difficult times that may feel overwhelming.