Healing Grief: Helping Others. Laura’s Story

Do you remember the last time you were with someone who was in a great deal of emotional pain? Perhaps it was a teenager experiencing a first broken heart, or a child upset about having to change schools, or an adult grieving the death of a pet. How about the last time you were hurting? Did you allow yourself to really feel the pain? Did anyone support you?

When reflecting on grief, be it my own or that of someone else, I often remember people that have made a positive impact on my learning and healing. During my ten years of working in psychiatric settings, I was blessed to be able to make honest connections with many people. There is one experience that has stayed with me over the years, and immediately comes to mind when I think of the subject of dealing with grief.

It was an Autumn evening, and I was working overtime in a hospital psychiatric unit for adults. Having finished all of my groups and paperwork, I asked the Charge Nurse if there was anything I could do to help her. Responding quickly, she asked me to get the vital signs of a patient that I had not yet met. Rolling her eyes with exasperation, she explained that he had been admitted the night before, and that he was “no picnic.” Apparently he was refusing to come out of his room and was not especially polite to staff members who had tried to talk with him. “No problem,” I said, and walked down the hall to his room with blood pressure cuff and stethoscope in hand, wondering just how difficult this encounter might be.

His room was dimly lit with curtains covering his windows, and he lay in his bed with his eyes closed. As I entered his room I spoke his name quietly, not wanting to startle him. Keeping his eyes shut, he irritably replied, “What?!”

Maintaining my gentle tone, I explained that I needed to get his vital signs and asked if that was okay. After a positive reply I proceeded to walk around to the other side of his bed, thus placing myself between him and his window. This was breaking a rule that had been taught to me in trainings: “Always place yourself between the client and the door in case the client gets aggressive”. Looking back, I really don’t know why I did it. It was not a conscious decision. This was, however, only the first “rule” I would break that night.

I quietly and gently took his blood pressure, and then placed my fingers on his wrist to get his pulse. As I touched him, he suddenly began weeping. I was immediately moved at a very deep level. This man was obviously in terribly intense pain, and held nothing back in expressing his sorrow.

Breaking the “rule” of maintaining physical boundaries, I finished taking his pulse and placed my hand on top of his, gently holding it. He continued weeping for about ten minutes. Knowing that crying in front of clients was greatly discouraged, I at first tried to keep my tears back. His agony moved me so much, though, that it was soon that I began crying quietly as I sat with him. He did not see my tears, nor did he even see my face, as he never once opened his eyes while I was in the room.

As his wave of emotion subsided, I asked him if he wanted to talk. He did not. I sat quietly with him for a few more minutes, and then spoke: “It’s obvious to me that you’re in a lot of pain. I’m sorry you’re hurting so badly.” He thanked me, and I left his room. I never saw that man again, as he was discharged the next day.

Clearly, this man was grieving. What he was grieving, I didn’t know. I didn’t have to know the source of his pain in order to be present with him in it. Though I never knew any specific details about this man, it is my guess that at least two factors contributed to his only staying two days in the hospital, as opposed to the average three week stay.

First, he remained present with himself in his grief. He did not deny his pain.

Second, he allowed himself to be nurtured in the midst of his suffering. These two things are very difficult to do, as I witness myself and others doing quite the opposite every day.

The options for denying pain are endless, and range widely in severity: drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, using drugs, sleeping, over-eating, under-eating, working too much, gossiping, staring at computer or television screens, or just plain staying too busy to even know what you are feeling.

What about being the person who deals with other people as they grieve?
All too often we unknowingly contribute to their lack of healing. Honestly, it hurts to join someone in their suffering. I’m not talking about becoming enmeshed with a person, but rather being willing to be vulnerable and real and loving in that moment.

Being with a hurting person often brings up our own pain. If we choose to ignore our own wounds, then truly being available to one who is hurting will be difficult, if not impossible. Also, people often feel the need to “fix” or offer solutions to those who suffer.

Grieving people don’t need fixing.

Our desire to offer solutions is another way of avoiding what really hurts. Hurting people need us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable (placing ourselves between the bed and the window). They need pure love and nurturing (gently holding their hands). And, they need for us to be willing to join them in their sorrow (allowing our own tears to flow).

So, the next time you are with the heart-broken teen, the child missing old friends, or the adult grieving the loss of the cherished pet, try meeting the person where he or she is: in pain. Permit yourself to feel. Allow pure love to flow.

Our world is hurting. We, as a part of this world, are hurting. Whether we are the one who is grieving or the one who offers support, healing can happen when we open our hearts.


Used by permission of the author: Laura Lewis.

Posted by Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC, The Esposito Institute, Inc.  4/14/2012

For counseling to heal grief, connect with Benita Esposito by using the “Contact” page at www.Flourishing-Lives.com