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The Grace Standing By

Children die; friends and family hear life-threatening diagnoses, we find ourselves in challenging physical or emotional situations, on track toward profound loss; hearts ache as life events damage those we love. And the list goes on . . .

About two weeks ago a friend asked me about ideas for supporting a friend whose son had just taken his life, and her request got me thinking. . . . It’s time.

Grief is alive and well. But grief itself isn’t my focus. Rather what’s coming is a short course in what’s next to support another, to become grace in another’s life, whether you intend to attend another memorial service, or to stay in touch for the long haul.

Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen.

No more is needed.

Eckhart Tolle: “Stillness Speaks”

Ever asked yourself these questions after a profound loss event: When should I reach out? How can I help? What should I think about before I ever open my mouth? Are there words or expressions I should avoid?

Even before considering wise answers to those questions, we need to understand something important: because we’ve all lived in grief and know how it feels to us, we tend to automatically attribute our feelings, our emotional reality, to another. But the truth is none of us can ever fully fathom the grief another is living. The larger concept – grief – we have in common; everything else about it is unique to each suffering individual. We are outsiders. Meaning well is never enough.

Here’s that short course, gathered from grief support organizations as well as from grievers who shared their best hopes with me. (More can be found in the essay, “Standing by: Becoming Grace in Stillness,” in my book, “Finding Grace”.)

First, don’t rely on the familiar clichés and platitudes you’ve so often heard; they trigger confusion and frustration. Do stay in the present with your comments and questions. Whenever possible, reach out first and speak honestly. Consider: “I don’t know what to say except my heart aches for you.” “How may I help you today?” “I have a note for you. Is now a good time to share it with you?” “May I call you tomorrow?”

Next, for the long haul, there’s companioning – being a witness to another’s grieving journey. Companions:

· are content to sit silently and listen with open hearts

· never assume they know what someone wants/needs to hear

· stay available without offering advice

· never presume they understand what another is feeling

· acknowledge emotions without intellectualizing another’s pain

· realize they have neither the responsibility nor the ability to fix the grief of another

Though we’ve all lived as grievers, these situations are not about us. This time we’ve chosen to be in service to another. Standing by – as a loving, safe presence, watching and listening without judgment –

is to become grace in the life of another.

May you be at peace




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