Imagine this – you send your best friend your normal goofy, snarky text as you take the train to work. Instead of their usual emoji-laden reply, you get this:
Hey. I can’t. I – okay, my dad just died. Can you call me?
Here’s the deal – NO ONE knows what to say in this situation. No one. There’s no magic incantation, no magic code, no special string of words that can make this right. You can’t make this better if you just say the exactly right thing. There is no gold star, no merit badge, nothing. You can’t say the perfect thing because the perfect thing does. not. exist.
You can’t do it right because there is no “right.” I hope that’s a relief. The thing is, it’s not your job to make your friend feel better, or even to take away their pain. As this awesome little animation will tell you, acknowledgment – letting things hurt – is the best thing you can do.
It’s not a surprise that you don’t know how to do any of this, or that you suddenly become someone who weirdly shouts “everything happens for a reason.” Because we don’t talk about this stuff, most people don’t know what to do, and they feel nervous. Feeling nervous makes people do strange things.
The trick is to lean into your helplessness in the face of your friend’s pain. Your job, honestly, is to feel awkward and stay there anyway. Just hang right out with their pain.
There’s one more thing we should talk about: your good intentions.
When I talk about the unintentionally awful things people say – like “he’s in a better place” or “at least you had her for as long as you did” – I always get at least one person informing me that people have good intentions and I should lay off the complaints. I find this fascinating.
Most people don’t know what to say. But the answer isn’t that grieving people should suck it up, pretend those platitudes are okay, and not get what they need. The answer is SKILL BUILDING.
The answer to any kind of awkwardness is SKILL BUILDING. Bearing witness to someone’s pain without jumping in to fix it or make it better is a skill. And skills can be learned.Of course you feel awkward - you haven't been taught how to help. Bearing witness to someone's pain without jumping in to fix it or make it better is a skill. And skills can be learned. Click To Tweet
ICYMI on instagram, here’s a short, awkward, messy video on why all this matters: it’s okay that you’re awkward in the face of someone’s pain. The way we deal with feeling awkward – in anything – is by building skills. Check it out (and please excuse the bad camera angle & the workout hair AND the giant format on this page – I couldn’t wait for proper conditions to tell you about that special event happening in just a couple of months. Embracing my own awkward, just to bring you the news.
Want more on how to help a grieving friend? Want support for yourself as you live through a life you didn’t ask for, but is here nonetheless? Be sure to check out the resources for support people here, and the resources for grieving people here.
If you’re carrying grief (no matter how recent or how old), check out our most popular, hugely amazing Writing Your Grief course. It’s not like most places on the internet. Inside the course, you can tell the whole truth about your grief – and you won’t hear a single platitude. No advice, no cheerleading, just acknowledgment and support. The next course session happens soon. All the information is right here.
And one last thing: changing the culture takes a gigantic team effort, and we’d love to have you. Join the Grief Revolution over on Patreon for the inside scoop, get access to videos and new content before anyone else in the world, and join other folks doing their best to change the world, one awkward action at a time. We’ll see you there.
How about you? How do you feel in the face of someone’s grief? Tell us all about your awkward. The way we get better at this stuff is by talking about it – and building skills. If you’re grieving, what are some of the best things friends or family did for you? Let us know in the comments.