Reaching out for help may be the single most important thing you can do when dealing with grief. Unfortunately for many it is also the most difficult. It’s hard to believe that someone else might understand what you are going through, or what you might need, or be able to bring you some comfort and stability.
But you need to believe. You are not alone and you are actually surrounded by people and resources ready to provide some support. If you can find the energy and the will to take even the smallest step, I truly believe you will be rewarded.
Here are some suggestions to get you started.
You could call a friend or family member and talk with them on the phone, or have them come over and visit with you. Before you do though, take a moment to think about how they could best support you, because you need to be able to tell them what you need, and to politely say goodbye if they are not understanding your feelings.
At some point, you might need practical help; someone to bring you some groceries or to take you to an appointment. Other times you might want to talk and talk until you can’t talk anymore. You might even like to be distracted from your thoughts for awhile, and hear about whats happening with them or others.
Often you won’t know what you want or need, only that you are in distress. You don’t need advice, or a lot of sympathy or affirmations, or even a lot of nurturing TLC. The best intentioned may offer all of the above and it will all feel like sandpaper on your nerves. This is when the best thing someone can do is just “be there” for you. What you need most is the simple presence of another human being who can hold your hand, let you cry, sit nearby while you rest, or just be in the house for support as you need it. We call this “companioning”, a term I learned from Dr. Alan Wolfelt. It’s the gift of having someone walk along beside you in your grief journey. Not pulling or pushing or smothering or distancing, just being there, letting you know that whatever you need , however you feel, is perfectly okay. Many good folks won’t know how to do this, so try and tell them. You could say, for example: “all I really need right now is to not be alone, so if you can just sit with me (go for a walk, have coffee, accompany me to church or counselling, whatever), that would be a great comfort.”
Sometimes the person you thought you could most count on lets you down. You can’t take it personally, it’s about them, not you. When Brian and I were surviving the death of our newborn grandchild, we called a dear and sensitive friend to see if she would come and just be with us for a few days. When she said “I’m sorry, but I just can’t”, we realized that it would be too hard for her emotionally, and she felt she would be no help at all. We had to let that go, and sure enough, a little later she was the best listener for me on the phone.
A second source of support, after family or friends, are the community volunteers who are trained and dedicated to help others in their grief. If you have a spiritual leader, minister, or rabbi, that you know or who has been recommended, don’t hesitate to call.
Even if you are not a member of their congregation, most will be ready to lend a practiced ear. Another source of help is your local hospice or bereavement support organization; most communities have this type of support. I have been very impressed with the dedication of these good people who have invariably walked in your shoes and who will respond to you in a helpful and sensitive way. Personalities differ, so if you do not feel it is a good fit, remember to ask if there is anyone else who could listen and give comfort. It’s very simple, just say “it’s good of you to try and help, but I don’t think this is working too well for me.” Or if it’s easier for you, call the coordinator and let them know your thoughts.
A third option that can complement the help of family, friends or volunteers is the Internet.
If you are already a regular participant in forums or chats this could be your first reach out action. You will find numerous options for grief community forums, and I will update posts with links as I find trustworthy recommendations.
If you feel that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help or that you shouldn’t impose on others like this, forget it. And if you have the comfort source of an animal companion, don’t let that be an excuse for not calling another human being. You can have the benefits of both. If you had been in a car accident, you wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help Don’t hesitate to ask for help with your grief. Our society is finally coming to accept that an emotional injury can be just as disabling as a physical injury, and deserves the same amount of time and healing support.
The fourth source of help, which may be your most available and effective source, is a Counselor or Healer. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email to inquire about such services. You want to feel safe and not squander your money, so check it out and take one step at a time. The best of us will listen with empathy and answer any questions, being sensitive and respectful of your need for safety and trust.
Whatever method you use to connect with another person, or with individuals in a group (more about that in a coming blog), it is crucial to do so. Making that human connection will begin to replenish your energy, your life force chi. How we cope and how we survive is really about energy. So that is why it is so important to find someone who is going to sustain you, not drain you. Listen to your gut, use your intuition to seek out and accept help from those who are there for you, those who will be honored to provide comfort, support, and counselling, or those who will simply provide companionship as you undertake this challenging journey through grief. When you are overwhelmed by grief, you will forget yourself, and how important you are to others, and they to you. Simple and gentle social interactions will help bring you back. One of the most encouraging things I’ve heard from a client recovering from grief was “I finally found myself again.”
Please don’t lose hope. Don’t isolate. Reach out right away. Help is closer than you think.