What Do I Say?

Lou Ann Stanton provides clear insite on how to help grieving individuals. Through her own experience as a widow she thought she had learned to talk to those who grieve but she learned that one of the best gifts you can give to someone who is grieving is the gift of listening.

by Louanne Stanton

Recently, I have encountered two families that have experienced the loss of a close family member. The circumstances of each death were unique, yet the two families shared in common a great depth of grief.

In each situation, I was keenly aware of the need to just listen to them. When a person in our inner circle dies, it leaves such a hole in our lives we must search everywhere to find a way to mend, fill or stitch close the gaping space left within us. And I found that just being there to listen was a way to start the process of healing that wound.

To listen is a skilled, learned behavior. It is not merely hearing what the person is saying and thinking what our response will be. It is not hearing what the person is saying and trying to come up with a fix while they are finishing a thought. It is actually hearing what they are saying and being quiet: being quiet and letting someone finish a thought and having an uncomfortable space of silence before they continue; being quiet and allowing them to ramble through the laughter and the tears that will come; being quiet and hugging them if it is appropriate, or patting them on the back or the hand to have the human contact that is so desperately needed at the time of grief.

We live in a sound-filled society. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with sound. The media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and we are uncomfortable with silence even when we are alone. So, when we allow someone who is grieving the time of sharing that quiet space, we are giving a great gift. We are actually sharing some of their grief with them. By being quiet with someone we are sharing the fact that they are not alone in the stillness of their grief, that we are there with them.

There are no words that can comfort someone so freshly wounded. At the time of a death, most people are still so numb that they are not aware of words of comfort given. But to listen to the people going through this difficult time is something that will be remembered for years.

After my husband passed away, I thought I would be qualified to speak words of comfort to those going through grief, but I have found that the most effective way to help others who have joined the ranks of the grieving is to listen. It doesn’t cost us anything but time, and those to whom you listen will appreciate it long after their wound has started to heal.

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