While scrolling through Facebook a few days ago, I came across a video entitled “How to Support a Friend Going Through a Difficult Time”, posted by a fellow mother-in-loss. It is the best explanation of what a hurting person needs from other human beings I’ve heard since experiencing a life-altering tragic loss almost 4 years ago. Since I am more of a reading person, than a watching person, I’ve transcribed it for you to read. Though the graphics in the video are animated, they are definitely worth viewing, if you tend more toward the learning-by-watching type. You can find the video, and a whole bunch of other helpful info on Megan Devine’s web-site: http://www.refugeingrief.com.
Here is the transcription of her video about helping those who are hurting:
“So, what do we do about all the pain we see in the world? All the pain we feel in our own lives? And why does it seem like our best efforts to help somebody feel better always backfire?
I’ve been studying intense grief and loss – baby death, violent crimes, accidents, suicides and natural disasters – and I’ve learned something really interesting. Cheering people up – telling them to be strong and persevere – helping them move on – It doesn’t actually work.
It’s kind of a puzzle.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the way to help someone feel better is to let them be in pain.
This is true for those giant losses and the ordinary everyday ones.
Educator Parker Palmer writes: ‘The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed………..exactly as it is.’
He’s talking about acknowledgement here.
Acknowledgement is this really amazing multi-tool. It makes things better even when they can’t be made right.
For example: Somebody is struggling – their baby died or there’s been a bad accident or their mom got sick and they are just sad.
It’s way more helpful to join them in their pain than it is to cheer them up.
But here’s what we tend to do instead: ‘You have 2 other children, you need to find joy in them.’ Or, ‘You know what you need? You just need to go out dancing and shake it off.’ Or, ‘I felt really sad once. Did you try acupuncture?’
We’re not really sure what to do with someone’s pain so we do what we’ve been taught – we look on the bright side, we try to make people feel better, we give them advice.
It’s not like this is nefarious.
I mean, we try to cheer people up because we think that’s our job. We’re not supposed to let people stay sad.
The problem is, you can’t heal somebody’s pain by trying to take it away from them.
Now, acknowledgement does something different.
When a giant hole opens up in someone’s life, it’s actually much more supportive to acknowledge that hole and let pain exist. It’s actually a radical act to let things hurt; it goes against what we’ve been taught.
In order to really support you, I have to acknowledge that things really are as bad as they feel to you. If I try to cheer you up, you end up defending yourself and your feelings. If I give you advice, you feel misunderstood instead of supported. And I don’t get what I want either, because I wanted you to feel better.
It’s pretty rare that you could actually talk somebody out of their pain.
Rarely does the admonishment to look on the bright side actually heal things for someone.
It just makes them stop telling you about their pain.
It is tempting to try to make things better. When somebody shares something painful, it’s much more helpful to say, ‘I’m sorry that’s happening. Do you want to tell me about it?’
To be able to say, ‘This hurts’ without being talked out of it – that’s what helps.
Being heard helps.
It seems too simple to be of use, but acknowledgement can be the best medicine we have.
It makes things better even when they can’t be made right.“
I love that last line – It makes things better even when they can’t be made right.
I will never get my beloved middle son back. Ever. Not as long as I am still alive here on this earth.
This hurts. Sometimes excruciatingly.
It doesn’t matter that I still have 4 amazing, wonderful, beautiful, loving children alive here on this earth with me; I am extremely blessed by this gift from God. But those 4 remaining children cannot fill the hole left in my life by the one who died in a car accident. And I don’t need or want them to do that. They are each beautifully unique and hold a unique place in our family. They cannot be 2 people. No one will ever be the one who left us. And no one will ever fill that hole.
And this fact hurts terribly.
So, if you are able and willing, be present with those who are hurting, and let them hurt. That is what helps.
Because sometimes the circumstances cannot be made right.
But they can be made better.