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Space and Presence

I hear many stories of traumatic loss and profound sadness, often so deep that nothing I say could make any real difference.  It’s a challenge not to take it on and try somehow to help fix or make it better for them.

I’ve come to understand that the best I can do is to simply offer a safe nonjudgmental space that can bear witness to their pain.  To be a caring presence offering unconditional acceptance of their person and sorrow, exactly where they are without trying to fix or change it.

Many tell me how hard it is when people try to give answers, telling them how to grieve; or how disconnected and awkward they feel when others simply turn away from their pain, changing the subject to something more cheerful so they won’t hurt so much.  To tolerate that much pain with them is a real gift we can offer at such a difficult time.

That awareness has been so freeing for me. Not only that I don’t do anything to fix, but in leaving space there’s room for movement, their grief shifts and there’s room for something new to be created. Space leaves room for the sacred and divine rather than my agenda, my solutions. 

It’s always a risk for me to trust that creative process, but at a very real level it’s letting them know I trust in their ability to heal and find their own way. In that space of safety and care, sadness becomes more bearable, often shifting to something transformative.  Bearing witness to that transformation is energizing and restorative for them as well as for me. 

In groups, my job is to ensure a safe space, a container to hold the pain.  They find strength in being together, realizing that they are not alone and that their crazy-making symptoms of grief don’t necessarily make them crazy. That in itself lowers anxiety.  Groups are a safe space to honor their grief, to honor their loved one, to pause and honor this life-defining time in their lives. 

I often remind the group not to take anyone else’s grief home.  That yes, we share and bear one another’s grief, but that each of us must ultimately carry our own load, and take responsibility for our own healing. 

And so it is for me, as facilitator, and for us as caregivers; we don’t take anyone else’s grief home; we are simply companions, offering support and courage because it’s their work to do, not ours.   

As they work and space is given, I watch and bear witness to their story changing.  I often ask them what’s hard or what’s changing for them.

One gal came to Parent Group one evening.  Noticing she had a lighter expression than the deep sadness she usually carried, I wondered if anyone had sensed a shift.   

She shared how her sister had insisted she come visit her across the world.  She had no energy or motivation as she described herself “being only in her own tunnel” of profound sadness that she could see no way out of since the traumatic loss of her son. 

At her sister’s insistence, she took the trip across the world to a completely different space. 

Her sister had booked a river cruise where she found herself out in the middle of an open sky, a beautiful river, and a place of extreme beauty in nature.  

For the first time since her son’s death, she had a sense of his presence, stirring within her a deep and profound peace that he was OK and that somehow, he was with her.  

She sensed a shift deep inside of her like she could go on and live.  She heard an inaudible voice say that she can “accept what’s good in life,” and she knew this was good.  

Since that experience, she is allowing herself to live outside of her “tunnel of grief.”  Feeling lighter inside, her mantra waking up each day is now, “Accept the good that comes to you today.”

It’s stories like this that sustain and nurture me in my work and give me the wherewithal to continue simply offering “space and presence.”

 

Written by:
Celeste Miller, MA, LPC, Porter Loring Bereavement Coordinator

 

Counting Your Losses

In our culture and community, when someone experiences the death of a loved one, we reach out offering consolation, care, and support. We grieve because we form attachments and connections with one another. We are therefore naturally “wired” to feel a sense of connection and loss.

The word bereavement comes from a Latin derivative which means “to be robbed.” The term “robbed” creates a strong emotional reaction suggesting that grieving isn’t something we do willingly or easily. 

The grief journey is an adjustment period. It involves the painful work of mind, body, emotions, and spirit. That is why we refer to it as “grief work”.

From the time that we were born, we are constantly experiencing losses. Some of them are so subtle they go unnoticed. Others are so overwhelming they seem unbearable. 

Grief losses are often associated with a terminal illness, death of a family member, friend, or colleague. These finite losses are devastating and overwhelming.  

Notwithstanding, there are non-finite losses that are also demanding and challenging.  

Struggling with infertility, leaving or losing a job, and facing the decline of a loved one’s physical or cognitive ability are such losses. And like other grief reactions, processing them is essential if healing is to materialize.

Unlike a death loss, there is no funeral to acknowledge and honor these losses—no grave to visit, no covered dishes dropped at the door, no sitting in the company of fellow mourners and supporting each other through the tears. 

Because people so often feel out of sync with the world around them, these “hidden sorrows” are difficult for individuals to share. Those who are struggling aren’t sure others will understand or want to hear their story. When this happens, individuals can be disenfranchised in their grief. So, they tend to push pain and loss downward rather than allowing it come up and out.    

Normal grief has a dignity that allows the griever the freedom to experience and express emotions and feel accepted and understood by others. As healthcare givers, we can help others by normalizing their grief and finding ways for them to embrace their pain and surrender to the process of grief. 

As bereavement companions, we can not only support others as they “count their losses,” but also help them live with integrity and perhaps even empower them to convert their losses to gains.

Every person, every place, every project, and every possession we love we will lose, someday, at least in a physical sense. How we adapt in these innumerable losses shape who we will become.”                                

“Counting Our Losses”, Darcy L. Harris 

 

Submitted by Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC, Porter Loring Community Coordinator

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