The Heart Of Bravery: How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving.
Grief can be terrifying.
It is loud and dripping and jagged; it is unpredictable and never contained — never isolated to one person’s heart alone — and it cares little for the conventions of social nicety.
We fear the grief-beast in our own lives, so it’s only natural that we would fear it in the lives of those we hold dear, too.
When I lost my mother at the age of 18, a lot of things became clear over time, but this one was immediately apparent: the majority of my peers had no idea how to handle me. As teens, very few of us had direct experience with a loss that close, the type of loss that changes everyday life.
I remember my growing surprise as I realized that most everyone around me would opt to not acknowledge my sadness, even after I reached out for support.
Still, I recognized even then that this isolating disregard was born of fear and inexperience rather than meanness or actual carelessness. I also knew that I would have likely behaved the exact same way had the roles been switched. Death is big enough to do that.
But that isolation wasn’t the only part of my experience. The other part of it was the shimmering kindness of loved ones who did reach out and hold me.
They weren’t perfect, and they didn’t always say the right thing, and I didn’t always come away from their tenderness feeling better than I had before.
But they tried, and I felt that.
Those who reached my heart the most were the ones who were willing — willing to be clumsy in their expressions of care, willing to be uncertain and let me hear their voices catch in their throats.
They were the ones who told me, honestly, “I don’t know what to say, I never know what to say, but I care about you and I want you to know I’m here,” and the ones who asked me, directly, “What can I do to love you right now?”
They are, now, the ones who surprise me every once in awhile with a photo of my mom I haven’t seen in years, or a memory of her they want to share, or a message reminding me that they are always here if I need to talk or sit or cry.
They are, ultimately, those who got comfortable with being uncomfortable, all in the name of expressing care and love.
And each time one of these brave-hearts wrapped me in compassion, they gave me more than just comfort in the moment. They gave me a blueprint with which to turn around and act from when someone I love hurts. They were, and are, my models of loving-kindness.
Throughout the years, I’ve heard this one thing so often, and I think it’s an incredibly common misconception:
“I didn’t want to bring it up and upset you. I didn’t want to make you sad.”
I’m grateful to all those who were brave enough to recognize this and voice it. And I always have the same thing to say in return: “This loss is part of my life. It’s my history and it shapes me and my every day.
If you bring it up, it won’t be as a reminder of something I’ve forgotten, it will be as an acknowledgment of something that is true for me all of the time.
If you bring it up and I get sad, it’s not because you’ve upset me, it’s because you’ve given me the gift of space to express that which I already feel. Thank you.”
Each of us grieves differently, and there are no hard-and-fast rules, except perhaps this: let’s approach ourselves, the comforters, with gentleness. We won’t always say or do the perfect thing, and that’s okay. We may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable sometimes, and that’s okay.
We may occasionally be rebuffed in our efforts, and even that’s okay.
Oh, and let’s remember this, too: may we all — those of us who have lost, and those of us who haven’t (yet) — allow for the fact that grief does not go away, it only changes shape.
Grief is not something to be vanquished, not anything to get over or move on from. The place of true healing and integration is one of allowance. I am still working on this myself, but I look forward to the time when I will welcome my grief as a friend, allowing it the space it deserves as a part of who I am.
The truth is that grief — like any other hardship — is a seed full of immeasurable potential for growth and development. It is both an honor and a miracle to bear witness to the transformation and enrichment a person can undergo after a trauma.
But that opportunity for expansion doesn’t end with the person who has lost. It extends to everyone around her or him, everyone who is willing to strengthen their bravery and mover ever-closer to the center of compassion’s heart.
The point, as with everything, is that we have a choice.
When we see someone we love hurting, we can choose to love them imperfectly because we know the only alternative we have is to not love perfectly, but to not love at all.