“He’s gone to a better place” Ahhh . . . People mean well when they offer us solace. But have you ever found that certain stock phrases, like “We are all in this together!” fail to offer the comfort people wish us to have. Whose comfort? Do those phrases uttered in good will calm the one saying it or the one hearing it? Maybe both? For some of us, we can find the words unsatisfying and fueling more of the existential angst we are feeling due to losses or things not going well. In times of grief, it can be hard to say “time will heal” or “Covid-19 restrictions will ease”, when the person you miss as a result of death is gone or the job you had is no longer the one you signed up for. Many changes happen in our lives and we often get very little say as to how things unfold. We are left without control, often without drive and enthusiasm and feeling quite isolated and alone. Things go on for those around us, they have to. Not everyone can stay but a few moments in empathetic consolation. But for the sufferer, the experience of loss can continue for months and even years.
For those of us who want to provide words of encouragement, the best response to a story of loss is often to listen to what is being said. To listen well and to allow those grieving to talk about who or what they’ve lost. If the deceased has gone to a better place, as many say, then why don’t we all head there now? If people are experiencing financial hardship right now due to job loss, knowing that covid-19 restrictions will ease is not necessarily what is needed in the moment. Maybe the offer of some concrete solution, the discussion of what the person might need temporarily understanding that the person is normally a productive working individual. Sometimes, what people need is just to talk, and they require no words, just an acknowledgement of what they are experiencing is painful.
Loss is relative. Loss is intensely personal. In times like this, during this pandemic crisis, there are many losses. We are also able to see the many good things that emerge in times of crisis. Let us listen and listen well to those around us. There are many people who desire to just talk, to speak about things they have valued, their family members, friends, and colleagues. With genuine listening, we can help people to be in a better place, to have the emotional restrictions eased, to have the opportunity to live through loss and to live it well.