By Ahwren Ayers; HealingTherapies.org Aug. 14th, 2021
Everyone experiences grief. We lose a loved one, others give sympathy, cards, and promises saying, “let me know if I can help.” Then nothing. Others don’t usually know how to help with grief, and we are not usually comfortable asking.
Most of us are uncomfortable around death. As opposed to many other cultures where friends and families mourn the loss of a loved one in support of one another, we don’t wear armbands to signify our loss or wear black any more. These days we hardly acknowledge death. It brings up our own imminent death and we don’t want to reconnect with our own painful experiences of losing a loved one. We tend to feel awkward, helpless, and afraid. Emotionally we don’t know how to stay with the pain. We live in a culture where asking for help is not okay, and we don’t want to appear weak.
I realize, as difficult as it may be, if we feel we need help, it’s the responsibility of the bereaved to ask for support. Asking ‘would you have time for me to talk about losing my loved one’? Sharing one’s grief is a tender thing so being discerning about asking support from a ‘safe’ person is important. Reassure them that they don’t have to try to ‘fix’ anything, if they have a few minutes to simply ‘listen’ that would be wonderful. Agree with your listener on the length of listening time so you both can more easily relax into the process.
Two years ago I lost my mother and a close cousin within a 2 week span, then a close uncle passed away 6 months later. Sometimes I didn’t know if I could get through the losses. Very recently I lost my brother, suddenly and unexpectedly. Deep in my loss once again I needed help, I needed to talk, I needed to be witnessed in my grief. Some friends and I have balanced and fulfilling supportive exchanges, but life keeps everyone busy. Some of my friends either don’t call to check in to see how I’m feeling, or sometimes others, when I call for support, say they don’t have very much time to talk, and then they talk for 10 minutes. and say ‘I have to go’. After my brother’s death I was lucky once again to receive grief counseling with compassionate and skilled counselors, and also to be part of a local 6 week Hospice bereavement group where I was wonderfully supported. As we shared our stories, I was inspired to come up with ideas to help make asking for support from family and friends easier.
The Listening Exchange.
- Invitation. We need to ask for support. Most likely the response will be ‘yes’, however, the person you invite gets to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So be prepared.
- When. The exchange includes boundaries and of course timing is important. If the response to your invitation is: ‘yes’ then together decide When? Now? 3pm? Tomorrow?
- Duration. How long? 5 minutes each? Or 10 or 20 minutes each ? This is the time to be specific about the details. This will create an equal exchange for both of you.
4. Dynamics. Each person gets to choose how they are witnessed. Silent listener? Or verbal interactions such as expressions of sympathy, feedback, guidance and support?
And of course each person gets to choose the topic(s). of their choice.
There are many ways to exchange feelings of peace, comfort, and support with one another.
I like the ‘Listening Exchange’. We each receive an equal amount of time to be heard and acknowledged. Everyone needs this. The purpose of the ‘Listening Exchange’ is to find a way in to a place that is difficult to journey through, and difficult for most of us to even start the conversation. The format is flexible and open to meet individual needs while maintaining a simple and doable framework
To quote Alan D. Wolfelt from ‘365 days of Understanding Your Grief’,
“As I heal my broken heart I need caring people who continue to support and understand me.”
So, I invite you to ask someone for support. It’s a win~win.
P.S. Another way to share our grief.
As I move through my grief and loss I’ve been learning how to bring my brother Rusty with me as I continue my life. During one of our visits I thanked him for the time we had together on earth and talked about how much I appreciated his supportive encouragement, his loving teasing, and his quick wit that made me laugh. I strive to develop some of his characteristics that I admired, his way of being in the world, his inviting of others, kindness, and being at peace with his life. I realized how much I would value his support in learning those things, I also realized he had his own journey to continue. I thanked him again for the time we had together. Stay if you will, go if you must. I release you to your choice, with Love.