Why do I work with people who grieve? Isn’t it too ugly to bear, too difficult to handle?
I am a grief counselor not because I enjoy bearing witness to pain, but because that pain is a testament to what is most important, meaningful, magical, and wondrous in our lives. Grieving is a way of praising what we’ve lost.
That praise, that pain over loss is different for everyone in its shape and corners and textures. Over time, I have developed some skills that help people through the pain. The first of these skills is my ability to sit in mystery with people. I feel comfortable suspended in a space in which there are no answers, and no certainties. I have had to work hard on this skill, and sometimes it needs attention. But mostly it is my organic and most comfortable state in my work. People who are grieving often feel restless and want answers. Why did this happen? How will I get through it? How will my life change without this person in it?
I don't have answers. You may have a few, and I may be able to help reveal them to you, but I don't have them for you. Over time, we may admit to each other that there are pieces we will never understand about your loss.
I can tolerate your pain, and I promise to never, ever try to talk you out of it. That does not mean I am not sad for you, and that I won't grieve alongside you. I will. It won't be my undoing, but I will let it change me.
I allow my own humanity to live in my work. I am not 'above' grieving. I may be able to help you find a space inside of your grief, and then outside of it, too. I will never deny your grief, or try to oil it in platitudes.
I will hold your hope when you cannot, but I will never force it on you. There is always a little torch inside of me that I tend carefully. Sometimes I hold that torch for a long time.
Sometimes when we are grieving, what we actually experience is a kind of emotional chaos. When we take our chaotic, grieving selves out into the world we are sometimes met with the judgement of others, and their need to control our feelings. Questions are not open-ended, they are framed with the answer in mind. An intimation that you should be over it, closed body language, an awkward joke. This is because we are threatening to others when there is a tempest churning away inside of us.
So, if we are faced with a friend in grief, what do we do? Take some time now to reflect about what chaos means to you -- what feelings, thoughts, and experiences it brings up. Take a good look at those feelings in your own life, on your own time.
Be ready to take a breath when a heartbroken friend dissolves in a puddle at the PTA fair in front of you. Be ready to dig deep, from the most authentic place you can find within yourself. Remember that may be you some day.
Don't meet their chaotic heart with your need to control, squash, judge and silence it. Their chaos won't consume you, but your authentic self just may offer some real comfort. Meet them as best you can.
Grief is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.