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A note to friends: When supporting a mourner, it is totally alright to do and say nothing. Promise.

Sometimes the best thing that helps is not doing, but just being...

‘How best can I support you?’

This was the question my friend asked me as she was trying to help me deal with a recent traumatic situation.  When she said these words I instantly felt her presence and intention to be there for me as it was the verbal hug my heart didn’t know it needed.

I loved everything about this question.  It, in my opinion, housed the perfect balance of simplicity and complexity to show the height and depth that my friend was willing to go for me, but that she did not want to do anything I was not asking for.  It was the perfect anecdote to the busybody-ness that often follows well intentioned souls trying to find a foothold in the midst of the emotional confusion engulfing someone they love.  It was a place of peace, nestled between the mountains of concern and empathy, as it drifted along the stream of her love for me.  Like I said, I thought it was perfect!

The truth, though, is that this was not all that needed to be said.  As I spoke with my friend Doc Dossman during a much needed chiropractic visit, he helped me to see that another side – the other side – is so often missed.  As he helped me relieve stress and realign my travel-worn body after my own father’s funeral, he pointed out that oftentimes people do not actually know how they need to be supported and that saying anything shouldn’t be the focus on either side.  He said to me,

“You were touched by your friend’s kindness because she truly cared not because she {said} the right things or {knew} what to say.  People shouldn’t worry about trying to fix anything or whether you are doing too much or enough.” 

-Doc

I thought about the epiphanic weight of that statement and realized that it is not so much about those helping mourners, or even the mourners themselves, but the allowance of freedom that both sides need to give the other to just be present.

So often we, as I had to come to terms about some of my own attempts, try to do so much for someone that it does more harm that good.  Often times the person being supportive may want to be so, but truly has no idea how to.  Because of this uncertainty, they default to not doing anything at all.  This leaves the person in an already isolated situation feeling even more alone.  Or there is the person who subjects the grievers time to projectile diarrhea (of the verbal kind) that it leaves them feeling more worn out than better or (and even worse) they turn the focus on their own feelings and sentiments, instead of the person they came to support, which isn’t much better either.

So what should the welcomed response be to my perfect question:  ‘I don’t know.’

The pressure to know is what can cause this situation to misalign and neither party get or give what they should or need.  A quote made popular by an unknown author states this ideal perfectly:

“When you cannot see the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.” -unknown

What most people need in these situation is not the pressure to know what they need, but the freedom and safety to not have to.  And the person who wants to support can be released from the pressure of doing the right thing and just understand that their presence and willingness to support speaks more volumes than any words could.

As I work through this new space of grieving myself, I see that someone just being with me has made all the difference.  Not just for them, but for me too.  I don’t have to be anything but exactly how I feel and I’ve appreciated all those who have sat with me, whether in the light or dark, and let me be.

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