My friend is going through a rough time. She doesn’t like email so I call her every week. She isn’t always up for a chat so when my call goes to voicemail, I leave a message that says, “Hi; I’m just checking in to say hello.” Yesterday, she answered the phone and we got caught up. As we were saying our goodbyes, she thanked me for listening.
It’s hard facing tough times. Even if you have someone who is going through the experience with you, it can be a challenge to sort out your emotions with someone just as emotional as you. That’s where friends and loved ones can help.
When someone we care about is in pain, whether sick or bereaved, we not only want to help, we’d like to fix things. While we can’t solve someone else’s problems, we can help to make things better. One way we can do this is by allowing our friends and loved ones to articulate what’s occurred and how they feel about it. We call this listening.
Most people find it hard to listen, particularly when those in pain tell their stories over and over again. We have the tendency to say, “You already told me that” or, “I’ve heard that story before.” When you shut the speaker down, you stifle their ability to process their experience and in doing so, inhibit the act of healing.
One of the best gifts you can give to anyone struggling with any type of loss is a willingness to listen. Whether it’s by telephone or in person, allow the speaker to vent. Even if you’ve heard the story before, listen to it again. Resist the urge to tell the speaker what to do or how to do it. Friends and loved one are not looking for advice; they want to share their pain and frustration and want to know that you understand and care.
Attentive listening, without judging or advising, is your way of lending support. It doesn’t matter how many times you have heard a story before; communicate your empathy to the speaker by validating their feelings, frustrations, and concerns; in doing so you will give them a priceless gift, your ear.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons / bgottsab