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The Challenges of Grief: I Can’t Help It

By Yourtribute @yourtribute

The Challenges of Grief: I Can't Help ItI do not know any of the details, but I saw a microcosm of how we respond to pain as I left the super market the other day. A car was parked near the front door in one of the handicapped spaces. A gentleman was beside the car in a motorized wheel chair, but was preparing to get back in the car to take care of something that had happened. His wife was saying “Now there is nothing to be embarrassed about so don’t let it embarrass you.” As I walked by he responded with a great deal of resentment in his voice saying, “Stop saying that, I can’t help it. I am embarrassed.”

That is a picture of the normal response encountered by folks in grief. People mean well and want us to feel better, but to them, the way to do that is to tell us we should not hurt, or cry, or be embarrassed. Not only does that not help, it makes us feel worse. On the other hand, this kind of response is all that feels right to those trying to help.

I walked with a college age woman whose mother had died in the last few weeks. She was having a very tough time and was in panic because she could not see any way she could live through the pain and had no idea how she should feel at any point in the journey. As we talked it became clear that she and her mother had a very rare and very wonderful relationship. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and her father had no role in her life. She was an only child but somehow she and her mother moved beyond the normal role and became best friends without a trace of codependency. They related on an adult to adult level. Her mother died after a too short struggle with cancer.

I began helping her discover that her grief was going to be much harder than some because of the depth of the relationship. I said, “It is no wonder you are having such a hard time, the loss of this kind of love creates holes in every corner of our hearts. I did not tell her how lucky she was to have had such a love nor encourage her to be grateful for all of the good times she had and the memories she will retain. I simply tried to get inside her pain and help her understand it and to know that I was there trying to understand even though no one really can do so.

She left feeling much better. I left feeling queasy and full of self doubt. It seemed to me that I was making her pain worse. I was telling her how bad it was and how hard it was going to be in the days ahead. I wanted to tell her the lucky stuff and remind her of the joy of memories.

Why did she feel better? She felt normal. Her reaction and lack of control were understandable considering the loss she was facing. She was not weak or silly or wallowing in her grief. She felt bad because she should have felt bad. It hurt because it should hurt. After all, how is someone suppose to feel when their mother, best friend, guide, and stabilizing force is suddenly gone?

She also felt like she was not alone. Someone understood not exactly how she felt, because no one can ever do that, but understood that she was in pain and that she had the right to be. Someone was there not trying to “fix” it or explain it, or tell her how she should feel, but there to walk beside her no matter how she felt and no matter how long she felt the way she felt.

Isn’t that what the gentleman in the wheel chair wanted from his wife? She wanted to reassure him and make him feel better so she told him there was nothing to be embarrassed about, but there was something to be embarrassed about. Would he not have felt better if she had said, “Oh I am sorry, I know this must be embarrassing to you. Let me help you back into the car.

Help doesn’t always feel like help, but it always involves honest understanding and a willingness to walk with them through the pain instead of trying to deny its existence.

Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.

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