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"Being There"

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

You’ve heard that phrase before. People will often thank specific people for “being there.” What does that actually mean? You may have a friend who has experienced a death of someone she loves. Death always invites grief. You may not have ever thought too much about grief. But, now, here it is, front and center, in your friend’s life and you want to “be there” for her.

You want to be compassionate and sensitive but you are at a loss for what to do. This isn’t surprising. Our society is obsessed with being happy and removing all obstacles that get in the way of the pursuit of happiness and comfort. Grief isn’t ever the topic of conversation at a party and it certainly isn’t discussed on the golf course. And when faced with it; well, if we don’t talk about it, it will go away. The problem, with the silent treatment, is, that when we experience grief, we are at a loss for what to do or say.

When a death occurs, whether we like it or not, grief is the invited guest. Those who experience the death are plunged into a darkness that is very foreign because society has not allowed grief to become a natural part of living. We have no experience with these deep dark days that descend upon us. In today’s culture, grieving is done in private; behind closed doors, alone, where no one can witness the raw messiness of it. Even funerals, which are the perfect place to share in collective sorrow and grief, are now, “celebrations of life”, and grief has been banished at the door. Don’t get me wrong, a person’s life should be celebrated, honored and memorialized. We should share in memories, talk about their accomplishments and say their names boldly. But, in so doing, we also need to acknowledge grief, embrace it and include it as the natural expression of our deep love for the very persons we are celebrating.

Which brings us to the days, weeks, months, and years that follow. “Being there”. What is it and how do you do it?

First of all, you must realize that your friend doesn’t need your help. Helping insinuates that they are inadequate or incapable or insufficient. Your friend is not any of these. She is experiencing deep emotion because a person she loves has died. It is NATURAL. You don’t need to change a thing. By trying to change things, you are telling her, albeit subtlety, she is doing her grief wrong. If you have been reading any of my previous blogs, you know that grief is personal. It is sacred to the person who is experiencing grief. Your friend deserves to experience her grief in the way her intuition tells her to. Grief is tough enough without the added stress of feeling inferior, inadequate or incompetent.

Next, offer to support her in any way she needs. Supporting her is different than helping her. Support is saying, “I know you are capable of doing ____, but I would like to offer myself and assist you”. Offering to do errands, cook some meals, answer the phone while she naps, take her kids to school or practice are all ways of showing support to your friend. These examples are saying, “I see your grief, I am here for you and will serve you.” While supporting your friend, be sensitive. There will be times when your friend wants to do the hum drum tasks of life in order to feel she, in some way, is in control.

Another way you can “be there” for your friend is one of the most difficult for most people. Grief is messy. It takes courage to be willing to accept the mess and sit in it with your friend. You have to be willing to get comfortable with strong emotions. You must be willing to let go of all judgement and preconceived notions you may have about grief and what it looks like. Remember, grief is hidden away in our society and it is uncharted territory for your friend as well as for you. Her grief is personal, sacred and new. Be compassionate and allow your friend to be emotional. You may feel the need to change the direction of your friend’s grief and tell her what she needs to do or feel. It is her grief. Let her feel it, explore it and live it. Her grief journey is hers to live and discover, it isn’t yours and you do not want to take it from her by suggesting how it should be done.

Grief is more than the emotions felt after a death. It is a life changing experience. It doesn’t fit into stages or follow a timeline. Grief isn’t something to get over. There are no lists of activities to do or methods to use that will take it away. Therefore, the best way you can “be there” for your friend is to offer support. Support her as she explores ways to express her grief. Support her as she changes over time, because her experience with grief will definitely change her life and her perception. Offer her grace when you do not understand, she is trying to figure things out. Hold her in her darkest moments and sit in silence with her when words are meaningless. You will be supporting her as she creates a new story of her life. Support her courage and bravery as she discovers how to live with grief in life.


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