Hear with your ears and listen with your heart
After the loss of my husband, I was consistently asked “What can I do to help?” Such a sincere and thoughtful ask from those around me, but all I could do was just walk in circles. I could only look around at my house and look down at my 2-year-old daughter, who was barely knee-high; and while there was so much that needed attention, I could not even begin to think of what an outsider could do to help me learn how to live again.
The first year was one of survival, truly living with my loss, one day at a time. So much around me was unknown, unfamiliar and extremely scary. While going through the motions of work, managing a household, raising a child and interacting with others seemed familiar, in reality I had no way of expressing what I was thinking, feeling or what I could possibly ask for to get through each day. In hindsight, I tried to express my needs but could never find the right words. Those around me would listen to what I was saying literally and would try to solve the immediate need; but there was really nothing to solve – this was my life now. I just needed an ear to hear me.
Fast forward twenty-five years – I have not only found my voice, I have found the wisdom to share with others how to walk their journey and find support from those around them. While facilitating numerous support groups for the past ten years, I listened to stories about individual grief journeys that would provide strength, commitment and the desire to live again. Each night I would go home after the groups and capture what people shared, what helped them individually and how to translate what others may need on a daily basis. For years, I continued to listen with my heart while capturing what people said as I was learning so much about myself and how to help those in an emotional place that is so foreign.
My notes not only became a life-line for my own grief but also provided ideas for supporting future grievers. I learned of ways others could provide support to those suffering from a significant loss without explicitly asking “What can I do to help?” I began writing two monthly columns for Bereavement Magazine, Widowhood and Grief in the Workplace. My focus was on the griever and also on those who support the griever. The overwhelming response to my articles validated there was a disconnect – grievers used their voices as a way to cope while supporters used their voice to fix a situation that was not fixable. As with most experiences in our lives, one chapter in life lends support to the next chapter; consequently, Living with Loss, One Day at a Time was born to help those suffering from a loss and to show how to live each day by communicating to those who want to help.
My “Ah Ha!” moment from this experience was that I needed to work through my grief and establish my new place while embracing life at the same time. I found that since I was only focused on the loss of my husband and the father of my daughter, I could not embrace my new life.
As a griever, you only have a few key tasks that you must achieve each day: make the best of the day; find a way to sleep at night; and start the next day with energy, determination and the will to travel your grief journey. As a supporter, your role is to observe what is needed and roll up your sleeves to help without asking.
Whether you are grieving the loss of someone or supporting a loved one, hear with your ears and listen with your heart.
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time.