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Compassionate Listening Benefits the Grieving

Listening is vastly underrated in our push to always have something to say. But listening is a gift we give to others and ourselves, receiving others with grace and dignity when we take the time to truly hear what they’re saying. March is International Listening Awareness Month, a great time to practice the art of listening, particularly if you are grieving in San Mateo and elsewhere. Bereavement support groups can provide the perfect opportunity to open up your heart and listen to others’ struggles as well.

Learning to Listen

Being a good listener doesn’t always come naturally to everyone — it’s a skill set like any other and as such it needs to be learned and practiced, says Psychology Today. This may involve unlearning previous behaviors. If you have recently lost your spouse and told someone about it, maybe they went off on their own story of loss and how hard it was for them. They may think they’re showing empathy but in fact they’re shifting focus off the person who needs the support in that moment.

In general, people are much better at telling you their own stories and belief systems than they are at listening to what you’re going through. It’s human nature. However, humans are a social species, and living in a social world means you must give to get. Listening is a social nicety that has faced an evolution of sorts within the modern world. If you want to be a good friend, refrain from jumping in with your own story (unless asked of course), and just listen. Chances are you may soon have to go through your own loss and grief process and you’ll need the support. Reciprocated listening makes all the difference when you’re grieving.

Tips on How to Support the Bereaved

When a friend has lost a loved one, you may not know what to say. But just being there for them may be enough. If you’re unsure of how to support a friend who is grieving, ask them to tell you what they need or want, suggests the Better Health Channel. Just the fact that you’re telling them you care and want to help in some way will provide great comfort. Here are some suggestions on how to help a bereaved person:

  • Contact them as soon as possible after their loved one’s death.
  • Attend the funeral or memorial service to show support.
  • Make a date to visit in person or talk on the phone.
  • Listen to them, suspending all judgement.
  • Open the conversation with something like: “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to see how you’re feeling. How are YOU doing?”
  • Now listen wholeheartedly. You can move the conversation along by acknowledging their feelings with statements like “I understand,” or “that must be so hard.”
  • Show that you are listening intently by facing the person, keeping your hands in your lap, and not fidgeting with your phone. Make eye contact, and perhaps give a reassuring pat on the arm or a hug every once in a while.
  • End the conversation by promising to get together again soon, and then be sure to follow up.

Remember, listening is the best gift you can give someone who is grieving!

Words of Compassion

Many of us truly don’t know what to say when a friend has lost a loved one and is grieving. We may say the wrong things by brushing their grief aside and imposing our beliefs and stories on them. In our haste, we may think we’re helping by being empathetic and showing the person that we know what they’re going through. But sometimes the grieving don’t need answers or advice. They just want you to stop talking and listen.

First off, you must acknowledge that listening is a skill, and like any other skill, it takes practice to become proficient. It’s certainly in our nature to talk, but you must also accept that to listen effectively, sometimes you just need to be silent. This allows the grief-stricken person to get their emotions out, talk about their loved one, cry and release. Feeling truly comfortable in another’s presence often means knowing you can say anything and the other will be respectful and just listen.

Studies show that symptoms of distress among those in therapy after experiencing a loss were reduced over a year’s time compared with those who did not seek therapy. The conclusion is that because these people were able to actively confront the feelings and thoughts their loved one’s death evoked, they experienced improvement. Mourning is a natural process that involves a give and take of talking and listening, especially when in a support group or counseling setting.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, we welcome you to join one of our support groups or counseling sessions as part of our bereavement services. To learn more, please contact us at 888-978-1306.