The last couple of days I’ve been considering the language we use around bereavement. Within this we have to look past language and our fear of talking or not saying the right thing and to simply listen. Often this is because we feel like we need to fill empty space. Sitting with someone in silence can be awkward but it is an important skill to use. Also when someone is crying we feel a natural emotional pull to them and a desire to console them or to help fix something so that they don’t need to cry anymore.
Like we have an invisible plaster that can stop the emotional bleeding, kiss their forehead and say that everything will be ok. The problem is bereavement isn’t a quick process. It requires time and space. It needs a guide to journey with the person not to show the way but sometimes to be a person who is simply there with them so that they are not lonely while they navigate this difficult time.
One experience of this was when working with a 19 year old homeless girl. I had been working with her for a while and one day as we sat down together at the start of the session and I opened with a simple question. “Where would you like to start today? What is on your mind for us to discuss?” The tears started. There was no magic in the question, it was as simple as she had reached a point in our therapeutic relationship where she trusted me, felt comfortable with me and was able to let go. For 45 minutes she sobbed, uncontrollably. At the end of our time she looked up at me and said “Thank you for not trying to stop me. I needed that”. She walked out that day, smiling because I had not interrupted her time of grief.
As I write this I am also reminded that along with bereavement this is also true for so many different areas of life where there is no one “fix”. Depression is a prime example of this. you need people to not try to fit the problem but just knowing that they are there with you, should you need them, can be enough.
So today I’d like to share a poem by Kelly Osmond entitled “Please See Me Through My Tears”. This resonates with me on a very deep level. Enjoy & be challenged.
You asked, “How am I doing?”
As I told you, tears came to my eyes…
and you looked away and quickly began to talk again.
All the attention you had given me drained away.
“How am I doing?”…I do better when people listen,
though I may shed a tear or two.
This pain is indescribable.
If you’ve never known it you cannot fully understand.
Yet I need you.
When you look away,
When I’m ignored,
I am again alone with it
Your attention means more than you can ever know.
Really, tears are not a bad sign, you know!
They’re nature’s way of helping me to heal…
They relieve some of the stress of sadness.
I know you fear that asking how I’m doing brings me sadness
…but you’re wrong.
The memory of my loved one’s death will always be with me,
Only a thought away.
My tears make my pain more visible to you, but you did not
give me the pain…it was already there.
When I cry, could it be that you feel helpless, not knowing
what to do?
You are not helpless,
And you don’t need to do a thing but be there.
When I feel your permission to allow my tears to flow,
you’ve helped me
You need not speak. Your silence as I cry is all I need.
Be patient…do not fear.
Listening with your heart to “how I am doing”
relieves the pain,
for when the tears can freely come and go, I feel lighter.
Talking to you releases what I’ve been wanting to say aloud,
for a touch of joy in my life.
I’ll cry for a minute or two…
and then I’ll wipe my eyes,
and sometimes you’ll even find I’m laughing later.
When I hold back the tears, my throat grows tight,
my chest aches, my stomach knots…
because I’m trying to protect you from my tears.
Then we both hurt…me, because my pain is held inside,
a shield against our closeness…and you,
because suddenly we’re distant.
So please, take my hand and see me through my tears…
then we can be close again.