LISTENING FROM YOUR HEART
“Listening from your heart is completely different from listening with your ears. Few people know how to do this and very few people listen to others this way. Listening from the heart means being genuinely interested, open and caring.
It means being eager to hear and to learn.
Listening from the heart means not jumping in with your point of view but, rather, hearing what life is like from another’s perspective. When you listen from your heart, people feel safe to tell all, open up and share freely”.
If you are reading this section, you are a person who is trying to listen from your heart.
This section contains specific advice on how to support a person who is grieving. There will be information on communication skills, hands on questions that are valuable to ask, and some of the warning signs of complicated grief, as well as some care for the caregiver’ tips for yourself.
One of the best ways to help someone else is to have insights on the grief journey itself. Please read the sections titled, “Intro”, “Journey of Grief,” and the section titled, “The Hurt, The Hope, The Healing, Towards Health.”
Grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has a guiding model for counseling the bereaved. He says that: “The word “˜treat’ comes from the Latin root word 'tractare’ which means 'to drag.’ If you combine that with the word “˜patient’ you can really get in trouble.
“Patient" means 'passive long-term sufferer,’ so, if we treat patients, we drag passive long-term sufferers.
On the other hand, the word 'companion,’ when broken down into its original Latin roots, means 'messmate.’: com for with and pan for 'bread.’ Someone you would share a meal with, a friend, an equal.
Dr. Wolfelt says he has taken the liberty with the noun 'companion’ and made it into the verb 'companioning’ because it so well captures the type of counseling relationship he support and advocates.
Companioning is about honoring the spirit;
Is it not about focusing on the intellect.
Companioning is about learning from others;
It is not about teaching them.
Companioning is about walking alongside;
It is not about leading or being led.
Companioning is about being still;
It is not about frantic movement forward.
Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence;
It is not about filling every painful moment with talk.
Companioning is about listening with the heart;
It is not about analyzing with the head.
Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others;
it is not about judging or directing those struggles.
Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain;
It is not about taking away or relieving the pain.
Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion;
It is not about imposing order and logic
Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being;
It is not about thinking you are responsible for finding their way out.
Wolfelt’s words on companioning allow a healthy perspective on how you should deal with other’s grief, while still respecting their rights as a person, and how you can maintain your own well-being, as you do so.
Caring people often wish they could 'fix’ other people’s pain. There are no magic words or formulas to eliminate the pain of grief. A supportive person’s primary role is simply to be there as the other person experiences their personal journey.
The following is a story which illustrates this:
“A group of researchers once studied one hundred caterpillars that were about to fight their way free from the cocoon. Instead of letting them struggle, however, the observers gently cut them out and released them. Then, they set the insects on a table and tried to get them to fly. But none of them could. Not one.
The study demonstrated that the time of wrestling and fighting through the walls of the cocoon actually gives the wings of the butterfly the strength to take to the air. The very struggle -- all of the pushing and thrashing -- of the insect to free itself from restraint is what makes its new life possible. Without the strife, there is not strength.”.
Sometimes the best thing that we can offer is to companion others through their dark period of struggle. People, who are in the midst of grief, don’t always know how to respond when asked, “How are you doing?”
There are several reasons for this:
Perhaps they have replied in depth and honesty to someone else when asked and then felt that the person didn’t want to hear such an intimate response. This leaves the bereaved feeling embarrassed.
Perhaps they have been hurt or given unwanted advice after opening up.
Perhaps they have broken down or cried, when responding, and have put up walls to prevent that from happening again.
Perhaps they feel it is a sign of weakness to ask for, or accept help.
Perhaps it is caused by gender or cultural reasons.
While I am talking with people who mention that they are struggling with how to respond to the question “How are you?” I sometimes tell them the word “˜fine’ is a very appropriate reply. It is an acronym for:Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic, and Exhausted. By saying, 'F.I.N.E.’ it leaves both the griever and the person inquiring satisfied. (It also puts a smile on the face of the person grieving!).
Allow grievers to cry, if they want. It usually doesn’t help them to hear you say, “Don’t worry, it will be okay.” Their hearts feel as if it will never 'be okay’ again. Tears are a normal and natural part of the grief journey. They need to know that crying or expressing their feelings is more healing than having them bottled inside or keeping a “stiff upper lip”.
Grievers may say, “Talking about this is very upsetting. I feel worse.” This is caused by so many emotions being stirred up at such an intimate level.
A cute example of allowing our feelings out can be found in the following illustration:
“Aarvy Aardvark” is a children’s storybook about Aarvy, who has lost his entire family to a zoo. His friend, Ralphy the rabbit, is companioning Aarvy through his grief journey.
This is their discussion about feelings:
'Lots of animals don’t trust their feelings, or they’re scared of them’, Ralphy said. 'But I think feelings are a gift. They are friends that can help us. And they’re always there because they live right inside us. They might be painful or shake us up at times but, if we listen to them, they will tell us what we need so we can heal and grow.’
'The thing to do with feelings’, said Ralphy with a twinkle in his eyes, 'is to invite them to come outside in the open so we can dance with them.’”
While supporting someone you care about who is grieving you are allowing them to 'dance with their feelings.’
Part of offering your presence to those experiencing the grief journey is to understand how your own loss issues may influence, or even interfere with, the support you offer them. Sometimes it is as important to know what not to say, or when to be silent, as it is to know what to say.
The following statements are feelings expressed by people who are grieving.
“Thank you for:....
Not asking me if I’m “˜over’ it yet. I’ll never be 'over’ it."
Not telling me the deceased is in a better place. I want him/her here with me."
Not saying 'at least he/she isn’t suffering'. I haven’t come to terms with why he/she had to suffer at all."
Not telling me you know how I feel."
Not telling me to get on with my life."
Not asking me if I feel better. Grief isn’t a condition that 'clears’ up."
Not telling me that at least I had him/her for a number of years. What year would you choose to have the person you love die?"
Not telling me that he/she had a good, long life. I wanted that life to last longer.”
"Thank you for.....
Saying that you are sorry that I am experiencing this."
Saying that you remember him/ her, if you do."
Letting me talk if I want to."
Letting me cry when I want to."
Letting me express both negative and positive feelings."
Letting me share my memories -- sometimes over and over again.”
Being insightful about yourself is necessary to help others and to ensure your own health while doing so.
How would you answer these questions about yourself?
Am I trying to be 'with’ this person as much as I can?
Is there anything getting in the way of my supporting them at this time, such as prejudice, my past experiences, or present discomfort? What can I do about it?
Am I doing things to increase the amount of trust this person has in me?
Am I withholding judgment?
Am I allowing this person his/her own perceptions and feelings?
Am I interrupting or am I letting them finish their thoughts?
Empathy is the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. It promotes the release of feelings, often ones that are denied, suppressed and forgotten, so that energy can be freed for problem solving. It contributes to a supportive and trusting relationship.
Could it be that | I get the impression that |
Is it possible that | Iis that what you feel? |
You seem to be feeling | Is that what you mean? |
I’m not certain that I understand | You’re feeling | You sound
Questioning is to clarify feelings, thoughts and perceptions of the person towards an event. It promotes and checks how accurate your perception and understanding of the person’s situation is. It enables the speaker to express his/her ideas and feelings with specifics.
How do you feel about“¦? Where would you like to begin“¦?
How would you like things to be“¦? What would you like to do with“¦?
I’m wondering“¦? What makes you think“¦?
You said you are concerned with“¦. Can you give me an example?
When you tried“¦. what happened? What do you do to feel less alone?
How do you express your anger now? How do you deal with difficult situations?
Good communication is always a challenge. This challenge is magnified by the fact that you are dealing with someone grieving the loss of a loved one.
The following are some questions that might promote communication:(or might help the person grieving to bring their feelings into the open and dance with them)
How do you feel that I can help you?
What would the people closest to you say about how you have been doing since the death?
What keeps you going?
Who do you have that listens to you? Who understands you?
Describe your average day.
What worries you the most? Do you have someone who you can ask to help you with this?
Where do you think that your loved one is now? Do you feel peaceful about this?
What ways do you have of releasing your pain?
Did you have any preconceived ideas about which of you would die first? (partner situation)
Tell me some good memories or stories of your loved one. How did you meet?
Feeling some guilt/anger after a death is normal. Where are you in this area?
What do you need the most right now? How could you attain this?
Not all communication is through words as is expressed in the poem by Henri Nouen.
“When we honestly ask ourselves
which persons in our lives mean the most to us,
we often find it is those who,
instead of giving much advice,
solutions or cures, have chosen rather,
to share our pain and touch our wounds
with a gentle and tender hand.
The friend who can be silent with us
in a moment of despair or confusion,
who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement,
who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing,
and face with us
the reality of our powerlessness,
that is the person who cares.”
It would be unrealistic to say that you won’t face any discussions or situations that will make you feel uncomfortable. As in any relationship, it is most important to be honest with the person you are talking to. If you don’t know the answer to their question, tell them so.
The grief journey itself is a very complex one. Experiencing one loss can trigger recurring or unresolved emotions from a previous loss. The person’s current loss may be of a different nature than a previous loss. The person grieving may have had a prior loss as the result of an accidental, suicidal, long term illness, neo-natal, sudden, or violent death. Other losses, which didn’t involved death, such as abuse, unemployment, and divorce, are often brought to the surface as well.
In a children’s story called, “There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon”, a child sees a dragon in their home. The parents insist that, “There’s no such thing as a dragon”, all the while the dragon grows and grows and constantly gets in their way. Finally, they have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as dragons when the dragon has grown large enough to walk off with their home!
This story represents well what happens to many people who have experienced various kinds of earlier losses. They might think that if they don’t acknowledge what happened by talking about it, it will go away. Or perhaps, they were never allowed to acknowledge it. But the hurt does not go away. The impact of the ignored pain grows and grows until they can no longer ignore it.
The good news about the dragon story is that once the dragon was acknowledged and talked about, it shrunk back down to a reasonable size and become a docile little family pet. Something that was manageable.
As people learn to talk about whatever hurt them in earlier experiences, they will be able to take some steps towards healing.
Although it is frightening to hear someone say this, it is a common feeling for people to wish that they could have died along with their loved ones. It does not usually indicate suicidal intentions. It does mean that they hurt and don’t see a way to make the hurt stop.
However, distinguishing this difference is a professional’s area of expertise. Please report suicidal thoughts and verbalizations, to an appropriate person. Never tell the person that you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret between the two of you.
Suicidal people often express themselves by giving away their belongings, saying “˜good-bye’ to loved ones, constructing a plan to complete the suicide, or even by gaining a sense of peacefulness.
Sometimes grievers have had a poor relationship with the deceased. They may have been abused, have secrets, or carry guilt about their actions in the past. It is possible for clients to feel true relief when a person dies.
In the case of the very elderly, clients may have experienced numerous losses relatively close together. This prevents them from having the time and energy to grieve each person’s death. It also reduces their support network, just when they need it the most. The elderly are also struggling with facing their own mortality in the near future.
Grief journeys can involve many complicated issues, which go beyond what you are comfortable with. Never hesitate to seek help.
If what you are discussing makes you question your own ability, or it is out of the area of your personal expertise, tell the griever, and suggest that they talk to a professional. Don’t forget to use community resources.
Feel free to call me (Marny Atkinson - Community & Continuing Care) at Morgan Funeral Homes (905 356 3550 or toll free: 1 877 356 3550 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to see what is available for you or the person you are supporting.
At Morse & Son and Morgan Funeral Homes we are connected to many other agencies and associations that have support systems available. We partner with the Bereavement Resource Council of Niagara (I am Past-Chair of it), and we are involved in the Bereavement Ontario Network (I am the past Niagara Representative).
Morgan Funeral Homes also offers their families a service called, “Caring Voices,” which allows people to access 24 hour/day, 7 day/week certified grief counselors through a phone service. This can be most supportive, as many people grieving have their most challenging times during the night time hours or on weekends, when traditional services aren’t as available. Just phone for information on this program.
Hopefully, by learning more about the grief journey, and what grieving people are experiencing you will feel better equipped to help your friend or family member.
Keep in mind, that just by caring, you are offering someone else more than you realize.
“Life is eternal,
and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon,
and a horizon is nothing
save the limit of our sight.”
Rossiter Worthington Raymond
Thank you for empowering someone who is grieving to see past their horizons.
Supporting someone who is grieving, is something that you do from your heart. Most likely you already put a tremendous value on the truly important things in life, as the girl in this story does:
A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present Seven Wonders of the World. Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:
Egypt’s Great Pyramids
India’s Taj Mahal
Arizona’s Grand Canyon
Panama’s Panama Canal
New York’s Empire State Building
People who support those who are Grieving
China’s Great Wall
While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one quiet student hadn’t turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The girl replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher said, “Well, tell us what you have and maybe we can help.” The girl hesitated, and then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:
And to Love.”
The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. The things we overlook as simple, ordinary, and take for granted, are truly wondrous!
Those who are grieving are going through the process of appreciating those Seven Wonders of the World - both in their past and searching to have them in their future.
Although they might not express it to you at the time, to the person who you are walking along side of during their grief journey, you are just that - one of the wonders of the world.