Responding to Somebody Grieving

Posted On: November 21, 2019

A few months ago, I caught up with an acquaintance and this was how the conversation went:

Me: “You know my mom passed away last year?”
Her: “Yeah I know…” (with an empathetic look) “How are you?”
Me: “I still miss her.” (start to tear up – one of those days I guess)
Her: “You know she is in a better place right?”
Me: “Yes.” (and turned away)
In my head, I went “Fuck you!”.

I know this person was trying to be empathetic, connect, or console but it didn’t work. Yet I was having an emotional moment (not a meltdown) and there…. logic (“You know she is in a better place right?” – talking to my head). I felt she wasn’t willing or able to support me in any shape or form. It felt dismissive and kind of pushing me to get over “it” or myself.

I’m sharing this because previously I wouldn’t have known what to do or say when a friend shared about their grief either. In the past, I’ve witnessed many people say, “Oh I’m so sorry…”. and I’ve often wondered whether this actually helps anybody (who cares if YOU’re feeling sorry?).

Now I know exactly what to do because this is what I would have liked to happen:

  • Depending on what the conversation is about and where it was headed, shut up and allow some breathing space for this piece of information to be processed.
  • Listen to my intuition (see with my eyes; sense with my body) of what to say and how to say next – rather than one size fits all formula.
  • Let go of any need for them to assure me they are fine. It is not about me – but them!
  •  I might say, “Oh no!”, “Wow you went through a lot”, “And you were so young”, “I wish it didn’t happen to you” “That must have been so difficult” at a suitable time (NOT as a pause filler and NOT interrupt their story if they choose to share more).
  • Drop into feeling (connect with my own heart) with this person: allow my own tears/ sadness to come up if this is what this person needs.
  •  Hold/ touch this person IF this is what they need (if unsure, ask. NOT NOT NOT about making me feel better but about letting this person know I empathise with their pain).
  • Let them know I am here to support them IF I feel inclined to e.g. can call me.
  • Ask for permission to continue with the conversation/ change subject/ elaborate more on what they feeling.

If you don’t know what to do or say, say so. It’s better than being dismissive for sure. How you respond says a lot about who you are and where they can go with you. Don’t be afraid of what it takes or how long it’d take if you say you’re a friend. Get real. Go deep. In short, don’t be an ass.

#grieving #support #emotions #friendship #empathy #compassion #healing

About Dr. Martha Tara Lee

Surrounded by friends who were sexually inhibited and struck by dire lack of positive conversations around sex and sexuality in Singapore, Dr. Martha Tara Lee set out to make a positive difference in embarking on her doctorate in human sexuality before launching Eros Coaching in 2009. Today, she remains dedicated to working with individuals and couples who wish to lead self-actualised and pleasure-filled lives.

She also holds certificates in counselling, coaching and sex therapy, and her fourth degree – a Masters in Counselling in May 2018. In practice for more than 10 years, she is the only certified sexuality educator and certified sexuality educator supervisor by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) in Singapore.

Often cited in the local media, Dr. Lee is the appointed sex expert for Men’s Health Singapore, and Men’s Health Malaysia. She was recognised as one of ‘Top 50 Inspiring Women Under 40′ by Her World in July 2010, and one of ‘Top 100 Inspiring Women’ by CozyCot in March 2011. She has published four books: Love, Sex and Everything In-BetweenOrgasmic YogaFrom Princess to Queen and {Un}Inhibited.

Martha works with individuals and couples in private coaching sessions, and conducts her own workshops. She takes prides in making sure all her workshops are also fun, educational, and sex-positive. This comes easily to her because even though she is extremely dedicated and serious about her work, she fundamentally believes that sex is meant to be fun, wonderful, amazing and sacred. As such, this serious light-heartedness has shone through again and again. For her full profile, click here. Email her here.

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