The pain of losing a loved one is something that most of us experience at some point our lives, and the grief can be overwhelming. It wasn’t until a friend of mine started to describe the depth of his loss, that I was really able to gain a perspective of his grief. As I sat there with my friend, tears streaming down my face along with him - I was really able to get what empathy is all about. My friend paused; he looked at me, and then asked if I was OK. I chuckled and said, “I can’t imagine the pain you’re going through, but it’s as if I can feel it.” Another tear ran down his face; we embraced. No more words were necessary.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one, someone who in many ways is a part of you, is a process - a long, difficult path that does not have that “happily ever after” kind of ending. It’s a journey, but not a journey intended to be taken alone. Nobody can know your pain, the suffering or the depth of grief you are experiencing. Every loss is unique; just as every child is unique. You are unique, and therefore, your pain and your grief is unique. The old adage “time heals all wounds” is a myth. Time does not heal grief; it simply spreads the loss across time.
Recovering from the losses of life is measured on a time continuum and can be a shared experience. Many have tried to endure the process alone, and many have suffered more loss along the way. Telling your story, not just the story of loss, but the whole story of life and loss, is a significant part of the grief and recovery process. It is difficult to talk about. Emotions can be unpredictable, and life already feels out of control. Finding a safe person to talk with and to join you in the process is essential. However, it is important to find someone who isn’t inclined to forge ahead, without your permission, and tell your story to others. It can be someone who has experienced their own similar loss. It also can be someone who is simply a good listener - someone who does not turn the conversation to focus on themselves, but rather has the ability to show up in the midst of your story and simply “be” with you.
Being that person who listens is a great way to find someone who will listen to you. If you know of others who have experienced loss, ask them who they found to tell their story. Sometimes it is another family member - maybe a family member a little further removed. I always think of my aunt when going through difficult times; what an amazing listener she is. Sometimes it is a “professional” - a spiritual counselor (pastor), a licensed therapist or a doctor. The key to discovering if someone is a good listener is to ask yourself, “Do I feel listened to?”
So, what’s the benefit of talking about your grief and/or loss experience? Not only does talking with someone decrease the feelings of isolation, it also can replace those self-defeating feelings, thoughts and actions with a sense of direction and purpose. Developing a sense of community and belonging also offers some relief from the ongoing pain as well as discovering new coping skills, decreased stress and can contribute to the process of redefining one’s sense of self. The benefit? To rediscover life in the midst of death.
Ron Schumann is a licensed marital and family therapist for Blount Memorial Counseling and Concern.