How to Help a Loved One Deal With a Loss

Friends help friends grieve.

“I am sorry for your loss” has great meaning when you want to comfort but don’t want to get to involved. It is a lovely sentiment. But when your dearest friend, or cousin, or sister has a loss that requires you to be present for them, it may rock you to your core.  The ability to fully show up becomes your new mission.

For those people who don’t know how to pack for such a journey, this becomes a mission of not only support for your loved one, but one of self-exploration, vulnerability and selfless courage. For some, knowing how to love another soul while that soul is aching, sometimes melting with pain, comes from a deep understanding of their own pain. For others, watching this type of pain leaves one feeling helpless, scared, and inadequate.

This is an extremely important transition in your relationship. This is the time that will bond you for life or place you in the “I never thought they would leave me now” category. If you are one of the people that doesn’t do suffering well, or at all, this blog post is to help you find not only how close friendships can become closer, but how emotionally supportive you really are.

Ask yourself questions like: How would I feel if my life was in crisis?

How would I want to be supported?

What would give me some relief from this pain?

What would I want that support to look like?

Most importantly, ask your friend how they need you to be with them. Everyone has a unique way of coping, make sure you are not imprinting your style over theirs.

Life trauma is not life disappointment. As I’ve written before, you don’t just cry and get over it. Although trauma brings tears, it also brings a depth of suffering that requires time, space, understanding, reevaluating personal safety, spirituality, and life vision.

To love another person through their grief requires looking inward in examination of one’s own ability to manage a range of emotions. If you are impatient with your own pain, you are likely to over comfort,  or you may underestimate the natural capacity all humans have to heal. When the mind-body-soul connection becomes extremely strained, it may feel like you are lost or disconnected. No one can authentically feel well when one of those vital life forces are not fully flowing.

The terrible dilemma is that you cannot reach into anyone’s nervous system except your own. Your task becomes holding space and providing love without trying to fix anything. This becomes tricky when you are watching a loved one suffering painfully and the most comfort you can provide is to sit quietly with them while they hurt. Making suggestions or judgement at this time is, let’s just say, “unhelpful.”

Think of your nervous system as a muscle. Like any other muscle you are developing, it takes an every day commitment to practice. Showing up and sympathizing with your own feelings of discomfort, or feelings that are yelling at you to “get out of here,” is your exercise. The process to develop your range of feelings requires a commitment to stay with yourself kindly with patience. When you hear the voice that says “I am not going to feel this pain,” breathe into it as you would breathe into any muscle being strengthened.

Look at this time in your relationship as a time for self-reflection and growth. Do not join the suffering by taking it on. The concept of boundaries become crucial for everyone’s survival. “I can witness the depth of your pain and maintain my own sense of well being” is the boundary we are looking for here. Remember your breath, your showing up, your kindness, your capacity to tolerate emotion is what is needed. Your belief in the body’s intrinsic ability to self heal when nothing gets in the way of its healing is the bridge that your love provides. Do not underestimate the strength of this bridge, without it your dear friend has to swim across the ocean alone, instead of walking on the bridge you have crafted for them.

However, stay on your own bridge.

If you jump in the water, the waves take you both. I know watching this depth of pain can be devastating. Self-examination, self-growth and self-honoring is your obligation to yourself and this time. To truly be a witness of suffering to anyone can be the healing force for them and an awe inspiring event for you. It is truly a call to rally and expand your own capacity to love. What a gift both for yourself and your loved one.

Think about young siblings who have gone through a terrible life struggle together. When they are grown, even if they are not physically close, there is an unbreakable bond they share. Only they intimately know and have watched the other’s survival process. Again, an honor to share such deep humanity.

As you remain available  for both your own feelings of sorrow and your loved one, a metamorphosis happens to the relationship and to the concept of the relationship. A feeling of inner security becomes available to you. All organisms have capacity to self regulate. Believing that is the journey for both of you. Hang in there!

God bless you for your unwavering empathetic love.

 

For more inspiration on grief and to receive help, check out my website

 

About Jean Wolfe Powers, LMFT