Do you know how to listen well for someone who is experiencing grief,
mourning, and loss?
Listen well. And listen well “for”. I chose the word “for” because listening
well is something we can do “for” the person who is in such sorrow and pain.
As people, we want to “fix”, we want to apply words as balm to their
gushing emotional wounds. This is an excellent time, the best time, to
come to the understanding of the truth that we cannot “fix”, we cannot
say anything that will be that healing balm.
By living and being, we’re part of families and friends who experience
excruciating sorrows. Let us be ones who love well and then know who
to listen as an act of that love. I’ve a dear friend who is a chaplain for the
local hospice organization. I’ve heard her say this “hang in there,
hug ‘em, and hush.”
1. The most soothing act you can provide is listening while they share
about whatever they want to share. That means you “hush”. Don’t talk much.
This is an excellent time to remember we’ve been given two ears and one
mouth. Go with what you have the most of. Tune in to them. Give them
your full attention (put you’re your technology) even if you are in the
grocery store and see them briefly. Don’t avoid them because you
don’t know what to say. No one knows what to say.
Let your grieving friend guide the conversation. If they want to talk
about laundry, go with that. If they want to talk about their loved one,
their sorrow, the unexplicable-ness of it, or anything else, go with that.
If they merely want to sit and welcome your company for a few minutes,
sit quietly with them. Remember you cannot fix. None of us can. The
balm we can give is full attention.
Even if you share the same faith, don’t hand out reasons God may or may
not have done something. Truthfully, you don’t know. And, it won’t help.
It won’t soothe.
Acknowledge that you have no idea what they are experiencing and that
you know it must be so painful. Even if you have experienced something
close to it, it is still their time to grieve. Their depth and experience of grief
isn’t exactly like yours. If they want to know about your own experience,
let them ask. Otherwise, don’t bring it up. None of us know what they are
going through. None.
is a good article targeted at how to interact with people who have lost
children. What not to say is as important and what you might say.
2. The gift of touch, a loving pat, holding their hand, a hug. You’ll have
to be discerning about what will be seen as wanted, based on your
relationship. I’ve been known to ask “Would you like a hug?”
If they do want one and you do, don’t read anything to whether they
“hug back” or merely accept yours. Your gift is physical connection.
Let go of expectations about what they “ought” to do.
3. A person in grief usually cannot think of anything you can do for
them. Saying “if there is anything I can do, let me know” more than
likely won’t ever be taken up on. Again, you’ll have to be discerning
but if you know what needs be done, do it. Mow a lawn, do errands,
ask specifically what you want to do. “May I ….?”
Be the one who remembers them a month, three months, six months
later. This is the meaning of “hang in there.”
Usually there is a crush of well-meaning, followed by all going back to
their own day-to-day. The grieving person’s life is forever changed,
there is no “going back” to the life they had before. Checking in with them,
doing for them, most especially through the first year is a gift of great love.
No matter where we live, everywhere around us, people are hurting.
Let us be ones who know how to listen well.