I’ve been thinking about losses both in my life and in the lives of some (all?) of my clients. The natural response to loss, large and small, is grief. Often we are given misinformation about how to deal with these losses. One I was thinking about was this: “Just give him some space – he needs space.”
In other words, distance from the person in their time of grief. Huh?
Growing up I always thought separation was a form of punishment. You know – getting sent to your room for misbehaving. And isn’t that what society does to law breakers? We incarcerate them away from the general population. And if they are really a threat, they are sent to solitary confinement – which is total isolation from human connection.
So why would separation from people be a benefit to someone who has just gone through a loss of some sort? Don’t we need the opposite – connection and comfort? Of course we do. But we do need the right kind of connection.
When someone asks for some “space” after a loss, I don’t think they are talking physical, but rather emotional. What they don’t need is someone trying to minimize the loss with well-intentioned chatter. But perhaps a good response would be “May I just sit here quietly with you for a while?” Sometimes people will open up a little and talk, which is good. Our best response is to affirm by nodding our head and empathizing when appropriate. Never try to fix the situation. It will only create distance. That is a step that might come at a later time if asked for.
Don’t judge someone else’s loss. For some, a pet has been their closest relationship, an object has been their connection to a special experience, or a setback is a block to a long-held dream.
If we are the one hurting, we can add to our problem by making it difficult for people to connect with us. Our fear of not being understood might result in us pushing away people who can offer legitimate comfort. And internally we can deny or minimize our losses, judge them unimportant, or push them away and bury them.
Feelings never die. They are just buried alive – which leaves us vulnerable to unpredictable resurfacing of the feelings.
So the solution, no matter what side of the equation you are on is a willingness to connect with either exquisite sensitivity, or cautious, but courageous openness. We were not designed to isolate from others, especially during the difficult moments in our lives. Even though some people might shy away from our pain as if it was contagious, we need to persist in finding those who understand. Usually those are people who have experienced pain and loss themselves and know what is and what isn’t helpful.
When God came to us in the form of a man, He experienced all the pain, loss and isolation that we do. Even when we are alone, we are not alone.
Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.