It’s a lot easier than finding the “right words.”
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Emily McDowell & Friends

You Can’t Fix Loss—You Can Show Up.

BE THERE. STAY PRESENT. LISTEN.

Hey, everybody. Emily here.

It’s no secret that there’s a collective grief happening right now that can feel pretty heavy—because it is. This grief comes from all kinds of loss, from Covid-related illness and death of loved ones, to the loss of a job, business, or economic security, to the loss of dreams for the future, to the loss of identity that comes as a secondary result of all those things. The feeling of the reality rug being pulled out from under us: that’s loss, too. And all of us, to some degree, are experiencing the loss of community that comes from social isolation. 

In our culture, being able to solve problems usually translates to “good at being a person.” We’re also taught that loss is intolerable, and the idea of sitting with pain is like OH GOD NO NOT THAT. So when someone we care about is suffering a loss, our first instinct is often to spring into “make-it-better” mode, where we immediately try to help solve their problem with our suggestions, questions, and ideas. This works very well if someone loses their iPhone. It’s not so helpful if someone’s life is falling apart. 

The truth is, you can’t fix a loss, and you don’t have to. A person going through a hard time doesn’t want or need you to try and talk them out of their pain. Trying to “relate” by bringing up something that happened to you, or a story you’ve heard, can keep you from hearing how the person is actually feeling about their situation. Asking about symptoms of an illness (even if you’re really, really curious) takes the focus off the grieving person and onto your needs. And unbridled optimism can feel like an empty platitude, with the person ending up feeling like you don’t actually want to hear how they feel. 

The most supportive thing you can do for someone in a hard time is to be willing to show up, stay present, and listen. And fortunately, learning to listen is also a lot easier than coming up with those elusive “right words” that will never come.

How do you start, and have, a conversation when your main role is really just to listen? I’ve put together a few suggestions on our blog if you’d like to read more. And if you want to go even deeper, take a look at my 2017 book, coauthored with empathy researcher Dr. Kelsey Crowe, called There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love. 

Wishing you peace, grace, and a well-stocked snack drawer,

Emily

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SUPPORT FOR ALL KINDS OF GRIEF

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Make This Better Empathy Card

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Broken Objects Foil Empathy Card

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No Good Card For This Empathy Card

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