How Do You Help a Grieving Friend? Acknowledge Their Pain and Skip the Platitudes & Facile Advice

“What does it mean to protest suf­fer­ing, as dis­tinct from acknowl­edg­ing it?” writes Susan Son­tag in Regard­ing the Pain of Oth­ersAcknowl­edg­ment, the recog­ni­tion of unimag­in­able pain and loss, is cen­tral, it turns out, to heal­ing. Grief expert Alan Wolfelt lists “acknowl­edg­ing the full real­i­ty of the loss” as the first in his “Six Needs of Mourn­ing.” But he also notes what so many in his field are quick to point out about con­tem­po­rary cul­ture: “Nor­mal thoughts and feel­ings con­nect­ed to loss are typ­i­cal­ly seen as unnec­es­sary and even shame­ful.”

The impor­tant work of griev­ing gets bypassed not only by our own inter­nal­ized shame, but by the unhelp­ful inter­ven­tions of oth­ers. Megan Devine—author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meet­ing Grief and Loss in a Cul­ture That Doesn’t Under­stand—explains the cen­tral role of acknowl­edg­ment, sim­ply being with oth­ers in the full scope of their pain, in the short ani­mat­ed video above. Many of us are taught to do any­thing but, to throw out advice and plat­i­tudes instead. (Illus­trat­ed here by an ani­mat­ed bun­ny toss­ing out rain­bows.)

Our motives may not be “nefar­i­ous,” she says, but—to use Sontag’s phrase—trying to fix someone’s suf­fer­ing amounts to a form of protest against it. And it only makes things worse. Devine is a psy­chother­a­pist and bereaved per­son her­self. Her book, notes Jane Brody at The New York Times, “grew out of the trag­ic loss of her beloved part­ner, who drowned at age 39 while the cou­ple was on vaca­tion.” She speaks not in the jar­gon of a clin­i­cian but in the frank lan­guage of a fel­low suf­fer­er and sur­vivor.

“You don’t need plat­i­tudes,” she writes on her web­site, “You don’t need cheer­lead­ing. You don’t need to be told this all hap­pened for a rea­son. You cer­tain­ly don’t need to be told that you need­ed your pain in order to learn some­thing about life. Some things can­not be fixed. They can only be car­ried.”

Being with some­one in their grief is “a rad­i­cal act,” says Devine. “In order to real­ly sup­port you, I have to acknowl­edge that things real­ly are as bad as they feel to you.” Offers of cheer or advice cre­ate defen­sive bar­ri­ers. Turn­ing toward someone’s suf­fer­ing gives them what they need the most: “Being heard helps. It’s the best med­i­cine we have. It makes things bet­ter, even when they can’t be made right.”

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Depres­sion & Melan­choly: Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain the Cru­cial Dif­fer­ence Between Every­day Sad­ness and Clin­i­cal Depres­sion

Stephen Fry on Cop­ing with Depres­sion: It’s Rain­ing, But the Sun Will Come Out Again

How Stress Can Change Your Brain: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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