And while the intensity of the pain and the severity of our sorrow is relative to the depth of our relationship with whom or what we lost, a loss is a loss. It is painful. Excruciatingly painful. It is time for crying. Time for grieving. Time for healing, letting go and moving on.
Oops…but not quite.
When we are experiencing a loss, it is a most difficult period — both for for those of us who are going through the loss, and for those whose role is to give comfort. Because sometimes, their words can even aggravate instead of alleviate the pain, without them meaning to.
Ever heard the following words….
“I know exactly how you feel…”?
You do? Really? No you don’t! Because no one can fully and truly experience what the other is going through. No one.
Yes, death is death, a loss is a loss, and pain is pain.
Yet, the circumstances surrounding the loss are unique to every individual. And it is the conditions surrounding it that make the experience unique. And the uniqueness of the circumstances makes the experience distinct and inimitable.
Thus, no one can truly say they know exactly how the other feels. No one. No matter how much compassion the other person wants to extend. No matter how well-intended the person is. And no matter how empathetic they are. It is only the person who is in a state of discomfort who can lay claim to the totality of the experience of grief, loss, or despair.
“It’s such a beautiful, shiny day! You should go out and get some sun. That’ll help you and make you feel better.”
Well, intellectually, I know that to be true. Emotionally, I’m not quite there yet. Far from it. But I know I’ll get there. Someday. One day. But for now, you know what will help me? If you will just please let me be.
Yet letting the other person be is seldom what we do when we see someone suffering.
And what about…
“You know it’s not the end of the world. Think of the others who are in worse situations.”
I don’t care if others are worse off or not. Right now, I am the one who feels worse and right now, that’s all that matters to me!
And how about this…
“Oh, she (he) is in a better place now. She (he) has finally ended her (his) suffering and is now at peace.”
But I’m not! Right now, I am the one suffering and I’m not at peace. Not yet, anyway. And that’s ok. And please let me have my way. For the meantime at least.
When we see someone in pain, we find it difficult to just be with the person and hold the space for what they’re going through. We are too quick to want to jump and fix the situation. We think we are not helping when we are not doing or saying anything.
We automatically give our unsolicited advice. We believe this is what will give comfort.
But what we are actually doing is telling the person that we are better off than them because we are not the one suffering. They are. And we are doing this unconsciously. By telling them what to do, or worse, how to feel, we actually elevate ourselves. We feel better. And we leave the suffering individual in a much deeper pain.
Sometimes, in our desire to uplift the individual, we end up adding to the pain as a result of our lack of empathy. Often also, what we truly want to overcome is our own discomfort in seeing the other person suffering. We are uneasy witnessing the other person’s pain. We feel helpless because we want them to be cheerful and lively once again. We want them to rise above their agony and move on. And move on right away.
We are lacking in our own ability to deal with someone else’s tragedy. And so we want them to quickly recover and move on so that we can move on. But it is not about us, and it most definitely is not for us. It is all about them, and it is for them. And when we’re truly at a loss on what to say or do, we can simply say, “I’m sorry for your loss and I’m so sorry you’re hurting. How can I help?”
Our most difficult task as a friend is to offer understanding when we don’t understand. ~ Robert Brault
And whether we’re aware of it or not, and whether we admit it or not, sometimes also guilt is what’s making us express our supposed words of comfort or advice.
When you follow my advice, you could feel better. But if you don’t get well or if you don’t follow what I tell you to do, at least I did my part. There is nothing else I could do. I am relieved because there is nothing for me to be guilty about. I did everything I could and said what I needed to say.
These are the words behind our well-meaning words of comfort. This is what we are unconsciously or indirectly saying.
Inasmuch as we are concerned, when we’re at a loss on what words to say to someone who is going through some challenges, silence can be the most comforting and kindest gift we can offer.
For someone who is suffering or grieving, no words can best describe the pain. No words can surpass the depth of the agony. Nothing comes close. Often, the suffering individual feels like all the world’s burdens are upon them. And no amount of reassurance will lighten the burden. Often what the individual needs is our presence. Our presence tells them, I am holding the space for you. Our silence says, I am honoring your process. And often, that’s more than any other words of comfort.
Words can make a deeper scar than silence can heal. ~Author Unknown
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Copyright © 2011 Nadine Marie V. Niguidula, M.A. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nadine Marie V. Niguidula, M.A. and Aligning With Truth with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.