Sunday, January 10, 2016

Being There For Someone Who Is Grieving

"Holding Space"

I recently came across a Facebook post linking to an article in which the author offered opinions on what should and should not be said to someone who is grieving. I was interested in the subject because I think knowing how to respond can challenging. Have you ever found, when you were before someone experiencing grief, that your heart may have yearned deeply to express concern and offer comfort, but your lips struggled to form the words needed to verbalize your thoughts?

As I first scrolled through the myriad of comments that had poured in on that post, I realized two things right away. First, most of us probably have a hard time finding those “right” words. Second, as confirmed by the overall collection of comments going in every which direction, it became clear that there really just are no right words.  Of course, it’s almost impossible to take away someone’s pain the way we wish we could, and even if we can relate and/or sympathize, we can never truly know exactly what someone else is feeling and experiencing. Aside from that is the fact that the ways in which people respond (a) to their own grief, (b) to the reactions of others to their grief, and (c) to the grief of others around them, are all very personal and vary tremendously from one individual to another.  This is understandable, given our diverse perspectives, beliefs, backgrounds, and personalities, but I guess our differences are part of what makes reaching out so hard at times, and yet the strong, human drive to comfort and console still beg us to find something to say.  

And we should make the effort to find something to say, or to do. As human beings, we should reach out to one another to show care and compassion in each other’s times of need. Those familiar with Spiritism know that this concept is emphasized within its teachings. Likewise, Spiritist literature reminds us that while charity and compassion can and do include material assistance, they are, by definition, much more inclusive than that.

Ironically, on the very same evening that I came across the above mentioned fb post, I had previously opened at “random” to a particular page in Léon Denis’ book After Death (*Note: this title was previously translated and published as Here and Hereafter), where Denis was making precisely that point about the true and complete meaning of charity, and he wrote, “There are thousands of ways to be useful, to give our brothers some assistance. Money neither dries all the tears nor cures all the wounds. There are troubles for which a sincere friendship, a lively sympathy and demonstrations of affection will do much more good to the soul than any riches.” 1

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I guess in seeing how people can feel so differently from one another upon hearing the same type of remark made in an attempt to show them solidarity, and knowing how challenging it can sometimes be to find the words I’m searching for to show someone that I care, I found it helpful to read from one commenter who said that the words she most appreciated, in her moment of grief, came from someone who simply told her: “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m here for you”.  These words may not reveal all we wish to convey, but they also do not pretend that we know what the other person is going through.  Nor do they unintentionally impose with a belief that is not mutually shared. Meanwhile, if expressed with sincerity, they do show honesty, concern, and dependability. Not for all circumstances, but something to keep in mind.

What can we do, though, when we want our actions to reveal what our lips cannot convey? If the time we will spend with someone in pain goes beyond that of a passing moment, how can we use that opportunity to be supportive?  Again, this can look markedly different, depending on both who is supporting and who is being supported. However, buried within all those mentioned comments I had been scrolling through was yet another link that a particular commenter shared. The link was to a blog post that I found quite insightful, and appreciating the helpful answers that it offers to those questions, I thought it was worth sharing.

The blog post blog post is entitled "What it means to ‘hold space’ for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well.” This, coincidentally, is also how I first learned of this relatively new term of “holding space”, which apparently is actually growing in popularity.   After reading about it, I would say that “holding space” refers to a gentle and helpful approach to “being there” for someone in his or her time of grief.

In her blog post, author Heather Plett walks readers through the concept of “holding space” with very real examples taken from her own personal experience, as she describes how someone special was there to do that for her and her siblings while they dealt with their mother’s last days and moments of life in the physical world. Her narration and explanations are both moving and revealing. I found the text to be one that I will hold onto and go back to. I wanted to share it because it is precisely when we are in our most vulnerable moments that we need one another’s compassion, whereby it is equally important that we know how to show one another that kind of loving support.  

In addition to that post, and due the overwhelming interest that people took in what she first had to say on the topic, Plett also went on to write complementary, follow-up posts, including these titles:
How to hold space for yourself first
Sometimes holding space feels like doing nothing
Sometimes you have to write on the walls: Some thoughts on holding space for other people’s personal growth
On holding space when there is an imbalance of power and privilege
Leave space for others to fill your needs
You can find the links to all of them in original post.

If you are interested in learning more about “holding space” and getting suggestions for ways to be there for someone in need of your support, I highly recommend those articles.

Thank you for reading!
Blessings to all, today and always

1 from “After Death” (Chapter 47), by Léon Denis [original title in French: Aprés La Mort, published in 1889], translation published in 2015 by Centro Espirita Leon Denis (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), in partnership with the United States Spiritist Council.