I have been clear in my articles and in my book, “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” about what people can do to support grieving people.
There are a great number of products that provide no use whatsoever, including sympathy cards, donations made in a person’s name, hug emojis on social media (which are only topped in popularity by the prayer hands emoji), and the list goes on.
On the other hand, there are some things that are completely powerful, such as simply being present with another person without trying to fix things (like my dogs Groot and Rocket have been), touch, and helping out with mundane tasks (especially in early grief). The list is short, but these are just some of the things that are completely impactful.
The most impactful thing you can do on this second list is to simply ask, “How’s your grief?”
As I have written about before, this is not asking a person to relive their grief — you are not asking a person to tell their story. You are asking a person to talk about their story. These are two different animals.
In his book, “The E-myth,” Michael Gerber talks about the difference between entrepreneurs taking time to work IN their business versus entrepreneurs taking time to work ON their business. That is the difference between asking someone to tell their story and asking, “How’s your grief?”
In my book and follow-up articles, I compare asking, “How’s your grief?” to people asking me, “How’re your knees?” When someone asks, “How’re your knees?” I don’t talk about the good old days before I had two total knee replacements, I don’t talk about the surgery, and I don’t talk about the physical therapy that followed the surgery — I talk about how my knees are impacting or not impacting my ADL (activities of daily living). Most of my responses these days center around my ongoing efforts to increase (actually regain) muscle strength.
“I’m not comfortable saying that”
A “friend” of mine, Steve, recently told me exactly that in a conversation we had. He is the same individual whose lack of support and shifting priorities drove me to take a serious look at what it meant to get support and, finally, prompted me to seek the assistance of a trained professional, which led to the entire psychological service dog can-of-worms (you can read that article here).
So why on earth would someone refuse to ask this question?
The answer is easy:
· They lack self-awareness
· They lack empathy
· They lack courage
· They are self-focused
They are either grief-alexithymic or grief-phobic. Either way, they are probably not the kind of person you want in your life.
If you are grieving
Imagine that you have an addiction to alcohol and that you have asked a drinking buddy to help you by not drinking around you and by encouraging you to go to the bar like you used to so that you may play pool. Imagine if your pal rejected your wishes and ignored your needs. Imagine what would happen if you didn’t have the guts to get rid of them and instead chose to hang out with them at the bar and play pool instead of kicking them to the curb.
If you are going through a difficult time and have someone in your support system who is like this, you need to be brave enough to tell them how their callous, insensitive, and emotionally numb approach to you and your loss is actually leaving you empty and exhausted. Give them the link to this article (the whole series, actually, and my book). Bring to light their state of grief-induced alexithymia. Make the request that they increase the amount of support they are providing. If they don’t cooperate, they should be shown the door. You don’t need friends like these. If they are not willing to stand by your side, they cannot be considered your friends. They are not friends if they themselves are not willing to evolve.
If you are trying to support the person who is grieving
Do you want to improve your relationships with those you care about, whether they be friends, family, or a significant other? If you are a person who wants to be a good friend and you find yourself struggling with asking, “How’s Your Grief” you need to get it together. Your friend is counting on you and wants your support. There is more to it than just you. Figure out where your issue is. It’s either a lack of self-awareness and empathy on your part or a lack of moral courage and a focus on yourself as the center of the universe.
What to do about your lack of self-awareness and lack of empathy?
To get started, you should make it a priority to work on improving your own emotional intelligence. There are a plethora of tools available, ranging from books to websites to exercises to courses that last for a whole semester. I believe that a lack of emotional intelligence is the root cause of this level of complete and absolute cluelessness regarding the grieving process for a great number of people. Its roots are in astounding emotional ignorance.
Consider enrolling in a class, picking up a book, working on your emotional intelligence, and getting your act together.
You don’t have to put off developing your emotional intelligence if you don’t want to. Do it today. You are able to get involved in the life of someone you care about before things really start to fall apart (or your own life, for that matter). There are people who take an active step toward improving their health by signing up for a membership at a local fitness center. And then there are those who put off taking action until after they have undergone double bypass surgery.
What to do about your lack of moral courage and self-centeredness?
Increasing your emotional intelligence is one way that you can directly combat this problem. You will develop the abilities, knowledge, and awareness necessary to make acting in a compassionate and caring manner a natural part of your behavior as a human being. Growing in emotional intelligence can often result in a move away from being self-centered, just like developing courage does. As you improve your abilities, you become more aware that there are other people in the world, and you feel an increasing desire to act compassionately toward them.
However, it is possible that you are just an asshole, and the sooner you acknowledge this and get out of the lives of people you care about, the better it will be for them all.
These articles, as well as my book, “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” expose the truth about grief. I am blunt. I don’t sugar-coat what I have discovered about grief and how we deal (and don’t deal) with it. Grief is too important of a topic for me to beat around the bush.
I want you to know that until Brian died and I directly experienced powerful personal grief and loss on a level that completely rocked my world, I had my head up my ass just like some of you reading this article probably do. And I was a therapist. I hurt a lot of people because I didn’t have enough self-awareness and I didn’t have enough empathy. I thoughtlessly bought into the lie that we are told about grieving.
When I wrote the book “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” I thought that my understanding was complete. I was wrong. That is why I continue to share my insights in these articles. Thank you for reading this, and I invite you to learn more about what grief truly is. You can read other posts right here on Medium, and you can get my book in digital, audio, and print versions.