Sitting with someone on their journey through grief becomes intensely uncomfortable for many people. In order to sit with that kind of pain and sadness you have to be truly at peace with who you are and understand how your own journey has helped make you into a better person, which I can tell you from experience, is no easy feat.
When people are uncomfortable with deep sadness they will reject your pain and say hurtful things because they are willing to do just about anything to get away from it. With the blessing and permission of a client, I share these situations she encountered after the death of her husband, as common examples…
“Well, I have a new car. I took my husbands’ car to the dealership and turned it in.” When I told her how sorry I was to hear about it and how hard that must have been to do she replied, “Thank you! You know you are the only person who has said that to me? Everyone keeps telling me how exciting it is and how happy I should be about it, like it’s this great thing. It’s not…”
Of course it is not a great thing. She has memories of her husband driving that car. Memories of the two of them laughing and perhaps even crying in it. And you know what? It still smells like him… one of the many tangible pieces that she will have to let go of as she moves through her grief process.
Another example of hurtful things people might say… “Wait, didn’t he pass away a year ago? You aren’t over it by now AND you’re dating someone new?”
People want to put a limit on pain and sadness because it makes them feel better. If you are a person who does not see why the above statement is hurtful, let me try another example to clarify: You have friends who lost a baby to SIDS. When the couple becomes pregnant again and they tell you they still miss the baby they lost, would you say to them, ““Wait, didn’t he pass away a year ago? You aren’t over it by now AND you are pregnant again?”
No. No, you would not. And if you are, you have some serious self-reflecting to do. In the mean time, please do the rest of us a favor and be quiet until you are done with your soul-searching.
When you are just starting out on your grieving journey, you really don’t think the “other side” exists. Every moment feels as though you must be living someone else’s life. Or perhaps a you feel as though you’re in a nightmare, wishing and hoping it will end, but never being able to jar yourself awake. Others describe it as spending their days trying to move through half-set cement, dragging along and struggling to put one foot in front of the other. You may have conversations with others, but feel like it’s like a horrible version of a Peanuts cartoon where can’t really comprehend what people are saying or asking. You are simply operating on autopilot while trying to act in a socially acceptable way.
In my grief work, I am often asked about my own experiences. I share what I am comfortable with. I share what seems pertinent to a person’s particular healing process, but I don’t have any qualms about being honest: it’s an incredibly personal journey. A journey that sometimes meanders like a peaceful stream…and, sometimes sweeps you away in a storm. Above all, it’s your journey. Your story is not my story. There is no right or wrong way. There is only through.
Life on the other side does exist, if you are brave enough to move through the cement. If you are willing to believe that something, any little thing, can be better. By sitting and being your most vulnerable self with a trustworthy person who willingly accepts your pain and will genuinely witness your journey, you can find yourself again. If you are willing to explore how the event has affected you, to reflect on what scars remain and how they can make you a better person, you can get there. Be willinging to accept that you will learn how to carry this heavy weight, and trust that it will become lighter with time, and I promise you will see a better version of yourself on that elusive “other side”.
You can allow this painful event to be a part of you without being all of you. You can rise despite this soul-deep pain, not just in spite it. I deeply believe that and I hope to see you on the other side…
Loving thoughts to you and yours, Amy