As I sit down to write my session notes, I hear loud sirens of ambulances passing by. Having grown right beside a major metropolitan hospital, siren noises were common for me. However, these days, sirens are much more common for everyone else too.
One of the themes that I see come up frequently in my sessions of late is grief. Listening to my clients makes me reflect on how helpless we all feel in the face of grief. Grief brings out extreme emotions in people. There is no one size fits all for grieving. Everyone deals with grief differently.
This leads me to the most important question: what is grief? Is the meaning of grief different for everyone? Grief is an intense sadness that one feels when a loved one dies. Traditionally, grief is always associated with death. However, grief can be felt when you lose your employment, when you miss out on promotion, when you are unable to conceive while you were expecting to start a family, when you have to move out of your residence, when you are rejected by someone who you love or attracted to, when you feel abandoned by your government or when you see your country’s state during raging pandemic. There can be so many more instances where you experience grief which I have learnt through my sessions.
Everyone grieves differently. People do not necessarily follow the grieving process as demonstrated by psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross. It is imperative to remember that the process of grieving is not linear.
Through my sessions, I have learnt that most people want someone to be there for them when they are grieving. Their support, whether silent or worded, is something that ties them up through this process. There are few people who would want to be alone, sitting with their grief.
From the clients’ stories as well as my experience with grief, I have found five ways to be there for someone who is grieving. Let me tell you, this is a non-exhaustive list.
1.Listen - Just listen. People who are grieving want to be heard. Listen without any expectation. Listen without giving any kind of advice or interrupting. Listen to their feelings and thoughts and express empathy to them. One of the best ways to show support is to listen to them.
2. Let them cry – Grief brings out extreme sadness and one way to express sadness is to cry. Often we would discourage them from crying as we don’t know how we would handle heavy emotions. But crying is an important part of grieving and healing. Letting them cry allows them to understand that tears help in healing.
3. Offer practical assistance – One tends to neglect self when they are grieving. People would appreciate some help who would come and help out in doing some chores. One of the things that helped me through my grieving period, are the little things my loved ones did for me. Whether it meant making phone calls or arranging my fridge with fresh vegetables. These small gestures helped me to grieve without worrying about practical things.
4. Be present – Many of my clients have expressed during the sessions that the presence of their loved ones either physically or emotionally, has helped them a lot. Being there for someone doesn’t mean saying “I am there for you.” Being there for someone means checking up on them regularly through calls or texts, taking them out for food.
5. Name the loss – Most of us do not take the name of the deceased because we fear hurting the person. Taking the name of the person and saying how you will miss them is better than saying “I am sorry for your loss”. Taking the name won’t make the person miss their loved one more but it may prompt tears.
Processing grief is difficult especially during this raging pandemic. Almost all of us have lost someone. The helplessness that we feel towards this situation is not okay. Grieving is a personal process and takes time. There isn’t any deadline that one needs to finish grieving by that time. Being there for a person who is grieving is one of the underrated things but it means a lot to that person.
Illustrator Credit - Candice Gray