walking alongside a grieving person (personal experience)

This is a realization I came to halfway through writing my previous post, but I feel like it deserved its own spot.

The weekend before grandpa died I went through a 16 hour training on what it looked like to walk alongside people who are grieving (for my internship). Safe to say I learned A LOT about grief. But there’s a difference between knowing and understanding, and I understand now. I get it.

So a few things, for me to remember; and maybe for you, dear reader, to tuck away for yourself. Maybe you can help someone else who is grieving, maybe you’ll need it down the line… who knows. But, here are a few things that I learned in training that have been highlighted for me personally in the last few days:

***Side note: Don’t take my words here as law. This is a mixture of a few things I’ve learned as well as personal experience. I would HIGHLY suggest reading up on these things yourself as well. This process completely differs from person to person anyway, so don’t quote me on these things. Feel free to agree to disagree.***

  • In this, try mirroring a grieving person’s energy when you come in contact with them. It just simply means to meet the person where they’re at. So if they’re in a more somber mood, don’t try swinging them into high energy. Sit with them, lower your volume if necessary. If they’re at a place of high energy, then meet them there. Smile with them, laugh with them if that’s where they’re at.
    • Mirroring a person’s emotions is creating a safe space for them to just be. It creates an unconscious bond between you and that person, and it helps them feel more calm and secure no matter what they’re feeling.
    • I say this understanding that sometimes, a person needs their mood to be brought up. If you know them well enough, go ahead and try that. But if not, just ask the person: “how can I help you feel safe today?” or “how can I walk alongside you right now” or “what can I do”.
      • It’s better to ask than unintentionally make someone feel like they can’t express their emotions because they don’t feel safe.
  • You are most likely not a therapist, SO, it is not your job to help heal a grieving person. Try being a companion instead. Come alongside a person in their grief walk, instead of treating (because treating means “to come between”). Companioning is hospitality. It is creating a safe space for a person to embrace their feelings and their loss.
    • Don’t try to make a person go back to normal life if they’re not ready to do so. Remember that their whole world has changed, let them adjust. Normal is being redefined for them anyway.
    • “In sum, companioning is the art of bringing comfort to another by becoming familiar with her story (experiences and needs). To companion the grieving person, therefore, is to break bread literally or figuratively, as well as listen to the story of the other. Of course, this may well involve tears and sorrow and tends to involve a give and take of story: I tell you my story and you tell me yours. It is a sharing in a deep, profound way.” – Dr. Wolfelt

  • Some things to note about someone grieving. Grieving affects a person physically, behaviorally, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually.
    • You will observe changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, changes in activity level, changes in communication, as well as a lethargy (downward moment aka the person is feeling tired or sluggish, not wanting to do anything).
    • There is WAY too much to go into here, but the simplest thing to help do IF ANYTHING is helping the person physically.
    • The acronym D.E.E.R. is easy to remember. If you can help remind a grieving person to do these things it helps.
      • Drink
      • Eat
      • Exercise
      • Rest
    • Also be patient with that person… mood swings, sudden bursts of anger or sorrow, crankiness, whatever else… expect it. Remember that death is changing an entire person’s life. They’re not going to be their “normal selves” for a while.

TL;DR- Walk alongside a person. Listen well. Meet them where they’re at. Create safe spaces for them. Also, take care of yourself please.

You know… it’s funny. I entered into my internship wanting to learn about grief since I had not really experienced it myself. I got the head knowledge, but when grandpa died, I finally gained the heart knowledge. It sucks right now, but this grief is teaching me to be a better person. Someone in training said it, “grief is a balloon in our souls. It increases our sadness, but also increases our capacity for joy and personal growth“. Grandpa, I can’t believe you’re still teaching me things about life even though you’re not here anymore. Thank you.

-Soli Deo Gloria

**information taken from my personal notes from training at a grief center**

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