An anonymous member of the closed Grief Beyond Belief Group at Facebook has generously allowed us to publish this beautiful and insightful guess post:
The 18th of this month will mark one year since my mother died. Here are some thoughts I’ve gathered and wanted to share with everyone in this group. They could be missing the mark, or maybe they’re pretty close to the target. I don’t know. They’re just a result of my own experiences and observation other people going through their grief along with me.
All this year I’ve been thinking on and off about how people have approached me once they’ve learned I’ve lost such an important loved one in my life. For the most part, I’ve noticed people make assumptions about me; they speak to me as though what they would want to hear is what I would want to hear: my best friend’s mother demands I believe my mom is in heaven, my sister encourages me to believe our mom is spiritually at our sides, another person tells me my mom is looking down at me and smiling, etc.
Also, among those assumptions, are people who try to intellectualize my grief. For instance – haven’t I gone through all the stages of grief? Why am I still taking forever to get over it? Maybe if I just accepted she’s dead, I would finally be happy and stop missing her.
It’s a pattern of people presuming to understand what I’m going through, and perhaps even projecting their own beliefs onto me because they’re too uncomfortable with possibly facing the potential that I see death from a different perspective. Maybe inside themselves, they’re having doubts, and want me to attempt to believe in an afterlife along with them as a form of comfort for them. I think this kind of behavior is where people go very wrong, and how in many situations people end up losing friends and loved ones.
But through all these experiences, I have one main idea as to how to approach someone who’s grieving – especially when you’re not absolutely sure what it is they believe: don’t make assumptions. Don’t approach them as though they are you. That’s where some people tend to get lost, though. They think, ‘Well, if I shouldn’t say to them what I think would comfort them, because it comforts me, then what is there to say?’
Maybe that’s the point: you don’t need to have something to say. Reciprocation just might be the better option when faced with the bereaved. Maybe approaching someone simply with a gift of listening to anything they have to say – really hearing them out and reciprocating those words – is the key. Because then it’s not about you and what you want to hear if you were in that person’s place and thinking, ‘oh jeez, I need to know all the right things to say so I’m just going to say what everyone else I know does.’ Stop yourself. Just listen. Listen and you very well might discover what that person wants to hear.
Truly listening to someone is the act of putting yourself second and that someone first. When many of us are faced with someone who is grieving, we’ll turn around and make ourselves our main priority. We start to become nervous about what WE need to say, about OUR discomfort, about how WE should deal with it all – and in that self-centered mindset we forget about the most important person in that situation. It’s not us. It’s that person who feels like they’re all alone in a world that’s crumbling around them because suddenly, they’re without that love they had for those precious moments it was alive.