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According to John James and Russell Friedman, authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook, there are 143 remarks that people make to those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Out of these 143 remarks, 19 of them are helpful. 122 are not. This brings into awareness the fact that we are all pretty much poorly trained when it comes to grief and loss. We find it fascinating that something so important has been so terribly overlooked in our society. This is why it has become one of our greatest passions in life to do everything we possibly can in providing people with better information and techniques in engaging with one another.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough that grief is an emotion! Grief is the natural, normal, straight from the heart response to loss or life changes. Intellectual responses are never helpful to grievers! Taking a look at our society, what is typically experienced by a griever is very limited support, if any. As with JoAnn’s experiences of loved ones departing this life, people brought food, they gave hugs and pretty much said 143 different things of which only 19 were helpful.
JoAnn remembers the following as a sampling of people’s effective expressions as responses. These felt as though they came from a place of being centered and attentive to their own fears when encountering tragic circumstances. The statements possessed a thoughtful introspection -
• “I can’t begin to comprehend or appreciate your pain”
• “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling”
• “I love you”
• “Please tell me more about your son”
• “What was your relationship with him like?”
• “I’m so very sad.”
• “I’m so very sorry about your terrible loss”
• “I can’t imagine the horror of losing a child”
On the flip side -
The funeral brought people together for more hugs and tears, yet sadly, a collection of “pragmatic”, unhelpful advice. Then once JoAnn and her family went home, that was pretty much it. Most people tended to leave them alone. It felt as if they were avoiding them, giving time for collecting themselves to be strong and to keep their uncomfortable feelings of grief to themselves. With Randy's and her mother’s death, JoAnn really tried to make this type of ineffective and rather dysfunctional behavior work. As always was the outcome, she felt near vacuously incomplete in her grieving process as she felt the expectation of keeping her pain to herself.
JoAnn had “learned” early on in her lifetime that she should keep her sad or painful feelings private. This created a mindset within her that isolation is the accepted way to deal with sadness. This was strongly reinforced on the societal level when JoAnn would find herself in tears in public. Others would immediately become very uncomfortable with her emotions.
Dr. Miriam Greenspan, author of “Healing Through the Dark Emotions: the wisdom of grief, fear and despair” expressed in a 2008 interview in The Sun publication, ”Our culture teaches us to get over our pain; to control, manage, and medicate it."
The roots of these misguided ideas travel through multiple generations. Programs of misinformation and in many ways, disinformation, become instilled within us as children emerging as patterns of belief and behavior into adolescence and adulthood. Without the intervening mechanisms of awakening from this dream state of unquestioned thought and behavior, we move through life in a trance-like state of consciousness continuing and maintaining the patterns of repressed emotion.
Interrupting these patterns is critical. The necessity for awaking unto ways within compassion and learning of the realms and relationship between, in and of one’s heart and mind is ever present and imperatively crucial. Without this we continue lineages of lacking inspired insight for interpersonal expression when finding ourselves immersed in an abyss of grief.