Holding Space for Others as They Grieve: How saying nothing at all is sometimes the best thing we can do for someone who is grieving.
Stronger than ever is the need for nonverbal affirmation in today’s society. Our lives are ruled so much by a constant influx of virtual text and talk that we’ve slipped further and further away from traditional modes of interpersonal communication. For many, virtual communication has become an in-person substitute. But when someone we know is grieving, simply being physically present does wonders for the heart, mind, and soul.
Most of us are inclined to speak up when a tragic event happens. “Let me know what I can do to help” or “I’m here for you” are our immediate first responses. These lines are a way of ensuring our bases are covered. Are they proactive responses? Yes, but actions can often speak louder than words. What we do, not always what we say, is an indicator of how emotionally and mentally invested we are in any one particular situation.
Next time someone you know or love is grieving, try these nonverbal techniques to show compassion and care:
Patience is the key ingredient to active listening. So many times, we rush through life, zipping from point A to B, and we forget to stop and breathe it in. This goes for our interpersonal relationships, too. When we engage to listen and not to speak (ex. rushing a speaker or interrupting to get our point across), we avoid many misunderstandings and help the other person feel heard.
When engaging with a loved one who has experienced a loss, it is important to exercise empathy to show that we truly care about what they are thinking and feeling in the moment. One of the best ways to do this is to eliminate distractions. If possible, turn off your cellphone and find a quiet room to talk. This shows your friend or loved one that you are focused and in the moment with them.
Attend to Behavior
Your body language as someone is speaking is just as important as what you say verbally. By responding physically to what the grieving person is saying, you are showing that you are interested in what they are expressing. You can encourage them to be open about their feelings by leaning in slightly, making eye contact, and gently placing your hand on their hand or shoulder. These techniques can help put the newly bereaved at ease as trust is built.
How we present ourselves to a loved one during a conversation plays a significant role in how that interaction will pan out, so it’s important to pay attention to nonverbal encouragers, such as facial expressions and body language. For instance, if the newly bereaved is crying to express sorrow or sadness, we want to show respect through serious but gentle facial contact. If the newly bereaved are smiling as they reminisce on a passed loved one’s life, we can smile back to show our respect and empathy. Nodding when you agree with what the speaker is saying also encourages them to continue being open and honest during a conversation.
When grief is new, it can feel tragic and overwhelming. If you or someone you know is in need of a helping hand, Carson’s Village can provide resources and guidance. Let us know how we can help.