How do you handle grief?

I had something else to write about. But COVID has cruelly snatched lives, livelihoods, friendships. In return it has shoved grimy notes of grief into my pocket. I have been left wondering how do you handle grief?

What do you tell a friend who has lost his mom? Or a colleague who mourns the death of a child and his employment.

What do you do when a client’s dad succumbs because the hospital didn’t have oxygen? What do you tell him when between sobs, he tells you that he has his wife on ventilator? Or when a long lost classmate calls and tells you that COVID felled your school principal?

I would love to know what you say? For, I find it tough. Very tough.  What do you do when words fail? And there is nothing you can do. The last couple of weeks, I have held the phone tightly and pushed my boundaries of courage in talking to people in pain.

Here are a few lessons. No, not a formulaic prescription. For grief is too difficult a devil to be contained into a formula. These are perspectives from my experience for your consideration.

How do you handle grief? Three aspects to bear in mind

First things first

Here is a three step process:

Step One : Listen.

Step Two : Listen More.

Step Three : Listen. Even More.

It helps other people to talk, to cry and to share. The pandemic has been cruel. People aren’t prepared. There have been no opportunities to say goodbyes nor any to mourn. The sobs are raw. The sniffles have sharp turns.

No advice please

I learnt early on that people do not want answers from me, when they ask me, “why did he have to go so early?” Whatever I say is not the right answer. 

Any advice and general comments on life do not help. Staying patient and venturing with tenderness and compassion into areas where the other person wants to go helps.

Sometimes, they speak. At other times, I can only hear muffled tears. The phrase that has constantly escaped my lips is this: “I don’t know what to say”.  How do you handle grief? 

How do you handle grief?

Routines. Rituals. Remembrance

A while ago, I came across the importance of nudging towards developing new routines, rituals and doing things in remembrance of the departed. That has really helped.

With one friend, I edited an essay that he wrote on his father. With a colleague, we created a picture collage for a remembrance meeting on Zoom.  Each word, each picture brought memories for the families as they relived moments from the past in snatches. Each of these was a consequence of choices made by the people involved.

Another poignant one was a playlist of songs that a team member used to listen to.  The team has this playlist that they play at a particular time on Zoom. All songs that one of them liked the most. The one that is not there now!

Its not over. It never is

Grief is not periodic nor an event based thing. It is a wave that washes up the shores at the gush of a fresh wind. No one gets over a loss overnight. It takes time. Grief is cyclical. For some, it is not something to move on from.

The pain that manifests around us is not one-dimensional. It has many fangs and bites in known and unknown ways. I don’t even know what to do or what to say. Grief is such a stiff mountain to climb and it needs a lot of patience and compassion.

What else do I say? So tell me, how do you handle grief?

OWL Despatch
OWL Despatch

The OWL Despatch

This is edition 82 of The OWL Despatch. Typically, I put one out every fortnight on interesting reads I picked up. This one is on grief. For that’s all I have been filled with the past fortnight.

1. The Grief Experience. Effective ways to help someone who’s grieving

 2. The Four R’s of Handling Grief

3. The Discomfort you’re feeling is grief

4. The biology of grief

5.   Loss, grief and healing

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