I recently received a note from a reader asking me a question and suggesting a topic to write about. And then she went on to tell me her story. She has been facing a deep loss in her life over the past year or more. Silence from friends is painful. Being ignored (and considered invisible) is devastating.
She wrote, “The one thing that I wanted to mention is something that continues to frustrate me. That is, one of my dear friends … simply overlooks and will not talk about the biggest grief event in my life recently, mainly the divorce and the events causing it. I don’t know if she feels like she is gossiping or what … I have no idea but it is painful. She sends me emails talking about the weather and everything else, but nothing about the unraveling of my life.” She went on to say that even her pastors refused to answer her emails in the beginning when she was hurting so badly.
Insensitivity During Grief
The insensitivity of these actions is difficult to understand. The folks mentioned are not strangers, but people whose relationships would be considered close to the lady who wrote to me. I can come up with some ideas as to why they ignored her and the obvious pain she was going through. All of them know her husband too, so maybe they felt as though they would be betraying their relationship with him or feel disloyal if they discussed any of the details of the situation with her.
Maybe, as with any deep loss, the people around her were uncomfortable and had no idea what to say. Perhaps they were afraid of upsetting her or worried they would cause her to cry. Possibly they feared being drawn into the situation, and were uneasy that something would be asked or expected of them that they were unwilling or felt unable to provide.
I seriously doubt that any of these people were unconcerned about how she was doing or the pain she was going through. What they failed to realize, though, is that (in her words), “Being ignored and considered invisible is a valid and painful experience.”
If you’ve faced a deep loss in your life and you’re grieving—and friends and loved ones act as though nothing has happened—they are hurting you far more than they would if the words they use aren’t just exactly right. Learning about grief is important for each of us. It’s important for our own well-being, and so that we’re better equipped to support someone we love who is grieving.
How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving
Even if you’re unsure about what to say, you can let your loved one know you care about what they’re going through and that you love them. You can offer to listen if they want to talk. Don’t feel as though you must solve their problems or provide all of the answers. Frankly, they aren’t looking for that! They don’t want you to tell them what they ‘should’ do or how they ‘should’ feel. They just need someone to listen and affirm them.
Talking about a loss is therapeutic, and most people who are grieving don’t have an over-supply of willing listeners. In fact, they’re fortunate if they have one or two. When you are a willing and engaged listener, and you allow them to talk about their situation and you affirm their value in the midst of it, you are helping them to process a painful event. The exercise is very therapeutic for them. Keep in mind that this is not about you, it’s about them.
Whatever you do, do not act as though your loved one and their loss do not exist. Regardless of your discomfort or reluctance, reach out! Don’t cause someone’s painful situation to be even more unbearable by your actions.
Silence from friends is painful. Being ignored (and considered invisible) is devastating. Reach out with love and compassion. This is not about you. Be there for your loved one. Truly be there!
© 2015 Judy Brizendine
Photo credit: Judy Brizendine
Fair Weather Friends – from The Grieving Heart website
Don’t ignore friends who are suffering from grief – Lois M. Collins, Deseret News
How to Help a Grieving Friend: 11 Things to Do When You’re Not Sure What to Do – Megan Devine, HuffPost Healthy Living