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How to Support Others in Times of Loss

Grief is not a linear experience, it is not something that you leave behind. As a wise friend who lost her son in a tragic gun accident once said to me, “You do not move through grief, you move in it.”

Grief does not recede like a tide, you never move past it. The goal of its recovery is not to let go, but to gain wisdom from the experience and learn to move in it with grace.

Our losses do not need to define us, but they are the building blocks upon which our lives climb higher, our understanding grows deeper, and our compassion expands.

Grief strikes us all as surely as death will call us home. At this moment, I write for the dozens who have lost loved ones in the fires that rage across California, for the countless who suffer from gun violence, domestic violence, and who sit beside loved ones in hospitals tonight.

How can we support these souls in crisis? What can we say when faced with so much sorrow? On this topic I have failed miserably at times. I have nearly lost friendships for not understanding the depth of sorrow and the way to help. From these failures and from the times when I managed to succeed in helping in some small way, this is what I have learned:

  1. Create a safe space for your loved one to cry, to say the terrible things on her mind without judgement, to sit in silence. Try to say as little as possible and create a void for your loved one to fill with whatever needs to come out of her broken heart.

  2. Resist the impulse to fix her. Nothing you can say will heal the crushing grief of her heart, so do not expect that your wisdom can somehow heal her. Learn to be present with her pain and offer input only when called upon.

  3. Send loving energy to her as she speaks with you. Rather than fill the interaction with your ideas and words, fill it with your loving presence. Imagine a brilliant light surrounding her in love and healing rays.

  4. Give without expectation of receiving anything. In relationships, we often hold certain expectations of what our loved one will give in return for our love. When we experience loss, it is not a time to keep score. Let go the expectation that your loved one who is grieving can give back to you. As the grief integrates into her life, as she learns to move in it, you will need to create harmony and balance in your friendship anew. She has changed, as have you. Honor the change and discover the soul friend who now sits before you.

Photo Credit: Patrice Karst @Woolsey Fire the Buddha is all that remains of this Malibu, CA home.

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