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Find help when grieving: The healing power of 'real' connection

Updated: May 24

"The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you're talking about because she experienced that too cannot be overestimated"

-Cheryl Strayed

If you're struggling with grief, it might feel as though you're travelling on your own in a strange, new land. It feels so intense that it seems impossible that the world is just carrying on around you. It can be a frightening place to be.

Yet there's an underestimated, powerful tool that can be used to help: the empathetic connection with someone who really understands. Even the smallest exchange with someone - a friend, family member or someone else - can be a bridge to understanding for you. It's about finding someone who 'gets it': who understands not just the words you say, but the parts that are harder to find the words for. It's like a thread of connection between you. But sometimes the end of that thread is not easy to see and pick up.

Understanding grief: a shared yet unique experience

We all go through grief: we're really not alone with that. But it can feel like we are. Our grief - the precise, personal loss that we are facing - is ours alone. This can make us feel as though we're marooned on a strange sea.

So how do we find comfort?

Some ways are about finding a way of 'keeping hold of' the person that you've lost, in whatever way you can. Others are about reconnecting with the larger world around you.

We can seek out any number of ways:-

  • Social support Leaning on friends, family or other people in your circle. This is a huge source of comfort to us, in many ways it's the most important.

  • Support groups Online or in-person. Many cities and towns now have grief groups and it's worth checking your local media: one example is the 'grief cafe' where you can meet and share your experience with other bereaved people. If you prefer to explore online supports, 'The Good Grief Trust' website is a really helpful hub of information and resources.

  • Rituals and remembrance You might create personal rituals as a way of remembering your loved one - celebrating them on special dates, visiting their grave or a place that feels significant in relation to them.

  • Creating a memory space Another way is that can be really meaningful is to create a memory book - scrapbook, journal, whatever feels right. Or a memory box of special and significant things. Or a playlist of significant or favourite music. There's something really special about this, it creates a new space for your relationship with them to dwell. It's like creating a new space in the world for them.

  • Nature and outdoors It can feel as if you're stuck in just getting through the days. But there's something about taking yourself off to, and being in, a natural environment that can be very comforting. It fosters a different form of attention from you. Focusing on the sounds/sights/smells that we encounter offers a new way to be with what's around you. When you're feeling lost, it's a reminder of steadfastness and constancy, helping you feel supported and less isolated in your grief. It gives you a break.

  • Faith and spirituality If faith or spirituality is already a part of your life, it can support you both personally and in providing a reassuring framework for rituals and remembering.

Broadly speaking, if you've got a sense of good support around you, however or wherever you may find this, any of these are helpful towards finding your way through. Chances are that you already know which are most likely to work for you.

But . . .

What when there's nothing that feels possible, or enough?

Maybe the new world that you're facing just seems too frightening, or unreachable?

You might blame yourself, tell yourself that you're lacking something - too weak to deal with this, or lacking resilience. But being 'resilient' in the face of grief can feel impossible when your personal resources are stretched thin and your grief is carried invisibly or in isolation. It's like trying to make your way through fog without any idea of what's on the other side. If this was easy and you could see your way, then you would do it.

Why empathy matters and how it helps

What does your grief need?

Empathy is a powerful, yet personal and subtle human capability that we all have access to. When you're feeling isolated with your grief, receiving empathy from someone can be like a lighted beacon. It's as if it cuts through your aloneness with "I see you, you're not alone with this pain". It's a real source of comfort and hope.

How we experience it

The effect of experiencing this comfort and hope can be felt physically. You might be very aware of how strongly you feel the pain of grief in your body: aching, tension, weighted down, knotted stomach, frozen, strained, ungrounded. Experiencing real connection with someone feels like relief, a lightening of the burden. A deep sense of being unsupported receives support. That "flash" described by Cheryl Strayed is most likely something you'll feel in your body. A reassuring feeling for when your body feels as out of place as the rest of your world.

It helps your world feel less small

When you experience the difference this makes to you, it's like an 'opening-out', a change that you can't go back from. You learn how profound and real it is, how much you can gain from it in your relationship with yourself and others.

It helps with your grieving process

As you already know, grieving is an unpredictable business. An empathetic connection offers a way of cutting through and clearing a space in the fog. This new, safe space can be a refuge, somewhere you can see firm ground under you.

It helps you find your way through

When things are a bit clearer, you've got the space around you to see where you are and what you might need. One of the activities listed above might resonate or feel potentially more hopeful. You might feel supported enough to want to stay with your feelings for a while. In the safe space, you are able to grieve in your own time and way without feeling you need to 'move on' or 'get over it'.

It helps you develop self-compassion

You learn that empathy doesn't only come from others, it's also about self-empathy. You see how to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you experience from someone else and to recognise that your feelings and reactions are valid and understandable.

So if you're struggling, this makes such a difference. Hopefully you already sense who the person is with whom this would, or might, be possible. Maybe you've witnessed or experienced their understanding and kindness before. If at all possible and when you feel able, please consider reaching out to them.

Finding empathetic connection

But without someone like that, support is harder to find. It goes without saying perhaps that expressing vulnerability and deep grief can be incredibly daunting if you're not sure how it's going to be received. Grieving is often exhausting: just the attempt to try and find the words can be too much unless you're reasonably confident of the other's response. There can be many reasons why you feel you can't share what you need, even though part of you wishes you could.

When would grief counselling help?

Grief doesn't unfold to a timetable, so the course of yours is yours alone. It can be hard to know when to seek more help. This isn't surprising: there's so much that's happened with your loss. What have you lost in your world, what's missing for you? What does your grief need and what do you long for?

Below are some of the signs that are worth considering if you're wondering about counselling. These are all at times part of the experience of grief, perhaps two important considerations are whether, for you, they are an enduring problem with which you feel unsupported, or whether you're feeling blocked because you're unable to see your way forward. Perhaps above all, one of the most reliable ways to know is if you yourself feel that it would be of benefit to you.

  • Feeling overwhelmed: it's significantly impacting your daily life

  • Feeling isolated and without real support

  • You feel stuck in grief

  • You need to understand it more and are looking for deeper insight

  • You need a safe space, or somewhere away from daily life

  • You want to be able to cope in ways that are right for you

  • What's happened is affecting how you are with the people around you

  • It feels impossible to know how to shape your new, post-loss world.

If you do feel that you need help with your grief, please get in touch with me using the buttons in the footer below. Whatever the loss means to you and your world, I support you to rediscover understanding and self-compassion. Counselling doesn't just help you survive your loss, it supports you towards opening up the possibility of hope.

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