To “listen without judgment” requires two actions on behalf of grieving friends, coworkers, relatives, or even strangers.
- Be quiet. (I would have said, “Shut up!” but thought that seemed too impolite.)
When you learn that someone you know has lost a loved one, among the most helpful things you can do is to “be there” for them. In many social settings silence is an awkward intruder, but when comforting the bereaved it can be a welcome participant.
In my post about grieving children, I mentioned the importance of asking kids if they’d like to talk about their deceased loved ones or about their feelings. The same principle applies to adults mourning significant losses as well.
I was blessed with some friends who did this beautifully.
One day a few months after my husband died, a friend invited me to lunch. I remember sitting at the table with tears streaming down my face as I vented about my pain and loneliness, expressed my anxiety over my daughters’ grief, and confided regarding the physical toll mourning had taken on my body. Our poor waitress (and a few fellow diners) appeared alarmed by my waterworks, but when I apologized my friend shook her head and assured me she didn’t care what they thought.
The few words she spoke during that meal were supportive, encouraging phrases that allowed me to share my honest feelings. She validated my experience by reminding me that my grief was all about me. She said things like:
- “That sounds really hard.”
- “I’m so sorry.”
- “I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
- “What are your feelings about that?”
Because she encouraged me to share my true feelings and never expressed how she thought I “should” feel, I was able to relay and process sometimes conflicting thoughts and emotions that would have festered inside me otherwise. Her willingness to listen nurtured my healing.
I’m very sorry about your loss. It must have been so difficult to lose your husband. Was it recent?
It sounds you have a wonderful friend. Most people don’t know what to say to the bereaved, but as you wrote the most important thing is to listen to them. I’m glad that you had a friend who was able to offer the support you needed.
Thank you, Yumi. It has been a little over three years now. I am often surprised by how vivid some feelings and memories remain, even when tempered by time and active processing.
I’m grateful that among them is the memory of that friend’s kindness and sensitivity. It was a great blessing.