Saturday, September 17, 2016
On The Other Side Of Grief
Over the years, since 1978, I have heard a refrain that troubles me and seems unfair. It’ s the frequent response I hear from those around the bereaved person. So often I hear people say, “Oh I was just a friend” or “I am just the cousin.” As though their grief isn’t as valid somehow. It is. I don’t know how one measures the degree of pain for the death of a loved person. “Mine can’t be as bad as theirs” is what I often hear. Perhaps, who knows, but whatever degree of pain anyone feels is as important to his or her life as it is to the central figures in the tragedy. In answer to that mistaken assumption I wrote the following article, “On The Other Side of Grief” for all those who are on the other side yet part of the inner circle. Shutting down grief always creates distance and safety; getting close risks being vulnerable to loss once again.
Just as grief is the natural and normal human response to loss, so is our response to a grieving person. It is very difficult to see someone we know who has experienced a great loss and not want to "do something" to help. Both grief and the response to grief have gotten lost along the way. This essay then is about describing and supporting our natural and normal responses to someone else's grief. It is a parallel process and embodies similar stages, but requires only the awareness to trust what we can do to help.
This parallel process is important not only to help the grieving person recover, but also to accommodate and create the inevitable new relationship with the bereft person. Significant loss irrevocably changes people and therefore any and all relationships. So part of the helping process is to accept the changed person and relationship along with their loss.