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Excerpted from Blessings from the Other Side by Sylvia Browne. Copyright 2000 by Sylvia Browne. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 

"Listen when they want to talk, be quiet with them when they don't."

  Sylvia BrowneBlessings from the Other Side, Part 2

When a Loved One Is Grieving

A loved one's grief is a hard thing to deal with, let's face it. It can be more difficult to watch someone else's pain than to go through pain ourselves, because at least when it's our pain we can make decisions about it, tackle it, not tackle it, and feel some sense of control, even if it's minimal. But sooner or later, unless we're hermits or cowards, we're likely to be faced with a grieving loved one and have that helpless, horrible feeling of not knowing what to do. I call what they're going through "the dark horse of grief." I call what they need from us "riding that horse right along with them." There are sensitive ways and insensitive ways to do that, a kind of "grief etiquette," for lack of a better term, that are worth remembering and following as best you can.

A person in grief is a person who's in pure survival mode. Breathing, eating, and sleeping may be about the best they can do for a while. Taking care of the basics for them without their having to ask-grocery shopping, tidying up, doing their laundry, whatever you can manage without making a pest of yourself-can make an enormous difference until they care enough to start wanting to do those things for themselves again.

Don't decide what their emotional needs should or shouldn't be at any given moment. Take your cues from them. Listen when they want to talk, be quiet with them when they don't, hold them when they want to be held, and give them their privacy when they think that somehow solitude might make the pain more bearable. "It will help you to talk about it" or "It will do you good to get out and see people again" may be absolutely true for some people and completely wrong for others. But it's their decision to make, not yours, and you can help most by being available to support what they feel they need.

Don't try to make them feel better by minimizing their loss. This is not the time to remind them of all their former complaints and frustrations about the person/pet/relationship/house/job they've lost. That amounts to expecting them to go from searing pain to "You're right, good riddance!" on cue, and if they're able to do that, they genuinely need psychiatric help. Grief is a process, not just a temporary state of mind, and everyone has to work through that process in their own way in their own time.

Similarly, don't try to offer misguided perspective by topping your loved one's grief story with one of your own. As I've discussed often at lectures and in other books, I lost nine people close to me in just three short months a few years ago, including, most horribly, my daddy, whom I adored. I was so numb with shock and sheer anguish that I barely remember much of anything from that dark, awful time. But I do remember a strange woman coming up to me at Daddy's memorial service, patting me on the back, and clucking, "This is nothing, dear. I once lost both my parents and my only brother all in one bus accident." I also remember wishing I had enough energy to strangle her. I'm sure her point was that if she could survive what she'd been through, I could survive too. But even if it's just a figure of speech, no one who's emotionally devastated appreciates hearing it's "nothing," or the popular and equally ignorant alternative, "You think this is bad ...!"

Proximity to grief can trigger some very odd reactions in us. On top of how hard it is to see someone we love in pain, we're either consciously or unconsciously aware of that grief we were born with and the grief we're likely to go through again, so the dread of "Next time it could be my turn" is both natural and scary. If you can rise above that natural dread and lend your support, in the hope that people will do the same for you when your turn does come, great. But if you can't, if their grief causes you enough discomfort, sadness, or panic that you can't contain it in front of them, make some gesture to let them know your thoughts are with them, but then stay away. There are few worse things you can do to a loved one than put them in the position of having to comfort you through their anguish.

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