Is it possible for someone to just be present without offering advice or minimizing the situation? Having specialized in the field of grief and loss, I’ve learned that the tendency is to want to “take away the pain” when comforting someone in the midst of a struggle. You’ll hear comments like “They lived a good, long life” (translation: be thankful), or “It’s great that you only need radiation therapy” (translation: that won’t be difficult). Or how about ‘Well, you didn’t like that job anyway” (translation: no big deal), or “There’s other fish in the sea” (translation: easy come, easy go). The goal is to put a positive spin on things and make it all better. But such comments don’t reduce the pain of missing a cherished relative or friend, or diminish the fear of going through an unfamiliar, scary treatment. The comments don’t take away the sting of others deciding your employment status and the fear of not being able to get another job, or the sadness of years spent in a relationship that wasn’t healthy for either party.
The belief that “doing and saying” is better than “being” doesn’t serve us well here. A lot of that has to do with what is said is generally not helpful. It’s not helpful to say “It’s going to be okay,” because one can’t guarantee that. It’s not helpful to say, “Let me tell you about my cousin who had lung cancer 15 years ago,” because that’s out-of-date information and not relevant. It’s not helpful to say “I know just how you feel,” because while you might have some understanding, you can’t know exactly how someone else feels.
And what about sitting with our own pain? I would guess we’ve all had times when we’ve wanted to deny the reality of the situation (hide it), or minimize the loss (fade it), or look for instant solutions (fix it). Grief experts will tell you that the only way to deal with loss is not to go around it but through it, and that is, in fact, the second task of mourning, according to William Worden: To experience the pain of grief. To deny the pain of loss prevents us from healing and moving forward in a healthy way. It hurts to hear that you have cancer, to experience a loved one’s death, to be fired or downsized, or know a relationship has ended. But acknowledging our own pain or sitting with another through his or her pain, is the way we heal.
Do you remember who was there for you when you went through a difficult time? Do you remember who wasn’t? (More people remember who wasn’t there.) Do you remember being there for others in the midst of their toughest times? As hard as that is, I believe it’s a privilege to share the difficult journey.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
Join us the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:00 PM (MST) for a discussion related to this Blog. Request a Zoom link below, to join the discussion.
SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
Receive Blog Post Updates
We respect your privacy. No Spam