Earlier this week I went to the funeral for a friend’s sister.  She was a young woman and her passing was very unexpected.  Needless to say that it has been a difficult time for this family and we all have been trying to find ways to support and share our condolences with them.  I have to admit that funerals are hard for me.  Being a therapist I often put an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself to say the “right” thing and do the “right” thing to make people feel better.  It’s maddening and silly because the truth about grief and loss is that there is no”right” thing.  There are compassionate things and sensible things and sometimes foot-in-the-mouth insensitive things to be said but contrary to popular belief there really isn’t a right thing.   There is no magic script or amazing therapeutic trick to help someone through the process of losing a loved one.  Or maybe there is… maybe the magical and powerful answer to supporting someone you care about through bereavement is to simply be present.

I am not talking about just physically showing up on their doorstep (although that helps too) I am talking about finding a way through your own sorrow and discomfort so that you can be emotionally available to another.  As I sat in the church a few mornings ago I had an a-ha moment that I’ve had many times before – sometimes the cure for our pain is just the presence of other people willing to be there with us through the process.  When I have on my therapist hat I know this intrinsically.  I know that despite the countless hours of training and continuing education and the wonderful techniques and research that I bring to my work, often the most powerful thing I can do is to simply acknowledge my clients’ suffering and be willing to stay present and fully engaged as they find their way through the pain.   So the obvious question is why in my personal life do I so often forget this?  The answer is simple- because as human beings we often avoid what is hard and painful.  And more personally, many of us want to fix what’s painful.  But there is no solution to death except learning to endure loss.

To truly be present we must first feel our own grief and helplessness for the situation at hand and sometimes that’s where we get stuck.  In the article Feeling grief means being alive, Elisha Goldstein talks about how we all put up blocks to feeling our sadness and helplessness.  But these feelings are as much a part of a fulfilling life as joy and pleasure.  Life means that we experience a full range of emotions and experiences and when we are able to face those things that make us uncomfortable we are then able to fully support and love those around us… and in the process we open ourselves up to be loved and supported back.  You may not find the “right” words to say but when we are willing to embrace the pain of loss and sorrow, simply being present suddenly becomes the only right thing to do.

Tell us, have you experienced a loss recently or know someone who has?  What helped you to cope?  What do you wish someone would do for you?


More articles on grief and bereavement

Feeling Grief Means Being Alive 

Grief and Loss: The topic of death ignored