Actually, you don’t. I understand are two words that I fucking hate to hear someone say to me. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe those words are said with love and compassion. But let’s get something straight…You Don’t Understand. And to be honest, I don’t understand what you are going through either.
I understand is something we say when we don’t know what else to say. It is something to fill in the uncomfortable silence when we get too close to someone else’s tragic circumstances. Too often, we say “I understand” when we have similar experiences and want to let other’s know they aren’t alone.
Your experiences shape your understanding. Considering this, there are no two people in the world who will experience the same event in the exact same way. This is one reason that law enforcement doesn’t give too much credibility to witness statements. If ten people are interviewed about an incident, all ten statements will differ in some aspect. People focus on events based on who they are. Smells, sights, sounds, and even tastes may change based upon who is experiencing them.
And if an experience induces a feeling of trauma, all bets are off. Emotions will dull your senses as your fight or flight kicks in and you will be in survival mode. Many times when a loved one passes away, those left behind are blinded by their own pain. They forget there are others hurting and often personalize the behavior of their family and friends. Everything becomes about them and words and actions are often miscommunicated. Thus the reason that many families drift away after the loss of a beloved matriarch or patriarch…it appears that everyone feels slighted by others. Unfortunately, this is not the intent, it is the by-product of grief.
How to help a friend who is grieving
When I lost my brother, it was devastating. He was my rock and the one who was supposed to outlive us all. I had no idea how many people I knew had lost a sibling and when they began reaching out, I realized I wasn’t alone. Were our experiences the same? No. However, we all became part of a club that none of us wanted to belong to and we realized we were not alone. We could bond over the loss and share our experiences, both positive and negative.
For me, some of the kindest things others have done is to just be there. I have one friend who knows that I hide away when I am struggling and she leaves messages for me, knowing I will call back when I am ready. I have other friends who often ask how I am doing and they call me out on my bullshit when I tell them I am ok.
I often joke that as a social worker, I suck at my own emotions. Truthfully, I am more comfortable with helping others, which are totally forms of denial and avoidance. So just let me know you are here. Let me ramble. Listen as I tell stories. Empathize with my situation, just please don’t tell me that you understand.
What helped me
I love the book “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way” by Lisa TerKeurst. It resonated with me. For so long, I have been stuck within my grief. Within a short time frame, many influential people in my life passed away and each one left a feeling of emptiness. However, as I explain to my children, this is the circle of life and as hard as it is to understand, it means we felt deep love. That is a blessing for I cannot imagine living life without love.
Prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I have seen God work through people and I know He is with us. Furthermore, I believe we will once again be reunited with our loved ones.
Being honest about how I am feeling. This is a kicker for me because as I mentioned, I suck at this. There have been times in the past few years that I have been treading water…simply treading. And occasionally I find myself back in that same place. I expend energy but I don’t move forward.