A coaching client recently lost a dear aunt to cancer. “She was like a mom to me,” he explained. A day after our last meeting, he wrote to ask for some help.
“Hey, Jim, I was talking with my cousin today. He said that his dad isn’t doing well with his wife passing. He cries every time on the phone.. Any advice on what to say to him or what to do for him to ease the pain? I appreciate any help you might offer!”
After a brief email exchange, this is part of what I eventually shared with him, which he said was very helpful.
If you or someone you love is in pain, I hope this might help you in supporting them and creating a space for their Grief.
____, My response to your note is based in two elements — one, that I’ve studied in the area of emotions for over a decade; and two, that I’ve experienced deep grief myself, having lost a brother, parents, and one of my children.
First, about emotions: Grief over loss is an emotion that only heals with time. One of the powerful things to know about emotions is that emotions need to be “heard.” So as painful as it may feel to do so, perhaps one of the best things your cousin can do for your uncle is to just listen — to create a space where his dad can just show up and be sad and not have to hold it in or pretend he’s OK or pretend he’s “over it.”
Grief and sadness are incredibly HUMAN emotions that come up when we’ve lost something/someone that was very important to us. (note: this loss is recent. If your uncle stays stuck in sadness for a long time, he may need other help. But this is a fresh loss, and for the next year, each event will open the wound just a little bit, like the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, etc, without her.)
Second, about savoring as a healing process. There is a sentiment that goes like this: no one has ever really left us as long as we still speak their name aloud. Talking about the person, sharing memories (like you did today, remembering her advice to you, etc) is a very powerful and POSITIVE way to keep someone’s memory alive. Even 10 years after my daughter’s death, we still share stories about her at the holidays, or will laugh together about that time she…. well, you get the idea. It’s called SAVORING, and it’s a beautiful emotional practice to keep someone’s spirit with us. Keep telling the good stories. What would Mom have done? Remember when aunt Sally used to…. ?
Finally, a note about Listening. A lot of people think they are supposed to try to make the other person feel better, or to “fix” their issue. Give yourself (tell your cousin) permission to just let him talk, let him cry, understanding that doing so is part of the healing.
I will conclude with this short reading about Listening that I often use when I do a class on Listening skills.
I hope this is helpful. Remember to take care of YOU in all this, too.
Could You Just Listen?
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me – strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen, not talk or do, just hear me. Advice is cheap. Fifty cents will give you both Dear Abby and Dr Phil in the same paper.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy, but when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get down to the business of understanding.
Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them, and when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. Perhaps that’s why prayer works sometimes for some people – because God is mute and doesn’t give advice to try to fix things. God just listens and lets you work it out for yourself.
So please just listen. If you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn and I’ll listen to you.
— Anonymous Article