Lending an ear might be the kindest thing you can do for someone grieving a loss.
A week after my friend’s baby died, her mother-in-law appeared at her door. My friend told her she wasn’t up for a visit, but her mother-in-law assured her she would just sit and keep her company. And that’s what she did. She sat quietly in a chair near my friend. After a while, she fixed them some tea. My friend now relates that this visit was one of the kindest things anyone did after her baby’s death.
When we are mourning the loss of a loved one, we have a myriad of strong emotions; to heal, we need to articulate them. Grief seems to take over our bodies, and our feelings are neither orderly nor coherent. In this state, it’s quite common to repeat ourselves.
What mourners need most are listeners, and it can be hard to find them. We are a society of talkers, and impatient ones at that. When we hear a story the second or third time, we tend to lose patience with the speaker. And yet it’s in telling our story, over and over again, that we begin to make sense of it.
So how can we more effectively listen and be present in a conversation with our friends and loved ones so they will open up and share their emotions?
• For starters, acknowledge that listening is a skill and like any other skill it requires practice to become proficient.
• While our nature is to talk, accept that to listen effectively, we need to be silent.
• Make a date to visit in person or chat with the bereaved on the telephone.
• Open the conversation with, “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to see how you are doing today.”
• Now listen; you can prod the conversation along by nodding if you are in person or encouraging the conversation by acknowledging their feelings with, “I can understand,” or “that must be hard.”
• Listen intently by facing the speaker, leaving your hands in your lap, and making eye contact. Keep a neutral expression as you follow the conversation.
• Bear in mind that listening is the best gift you can give the bereaved.
• End the conversation without awkwardness by saying, “Let’s talk again soon.”
The more you listen, the easier it becomes. And someday, you will need others to listen to you too.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don’t Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for “Illness & Death,” “Suicide,” “Miscarriage,” “Death of a Child,” “Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby,” “Pet Loss,” “Caregiver Responsibilities,” “Divorce” and “Job Loss.” All titles are in Amazon’s Kindle Store.