Guest Post: Truly Listen

An anonymous member of the closed Grief Beyond Belief Group at Facebook has generously allowed us to publish this beautiful and insightful guess post:

The 18th of this month will mark one year since my mother died. Here are some thoughts I’ve gathered and wanted to share with everyone in this group. They could be missing the mark, or maybe they’re pretty close to the target. I don’t know. They’re just a result of my own experiences and observation other people going through their grief along with me.


All this year I’ve been thinking on and off about how people have approached me once they’ve learned I’ve lost such an important loved one in my life. For the most part, I’ve noticed people make assumptions about me; they speak to me as though what they would want to hear is what I would want to hear: my best friend’s mother demands I believe my mom is in heaven, my sister encourages me to believe our mom is spiritually at our sides, another person tells me my mom is looking down at me and smiling, etc.

Also, among those assumptions, are people who try to intellectualize my grief. For instance – haven’t I gone through all the stages of grief? Why am I still taking forever to get over it? Maybe if I just accepted she’s dead, I would finally be happy and stop missing her.

It’s a pattern of people presuming to understand what I’m going through, and perhaps even projecting their own beliefs onto me because they’re too uncomfortable with possibly facing the potential that I see death from a different perspective. Maybe inside themselves, they’re having doubts, and want me to attempt to believe in an afterlife along with them as a form of comfort for them. I think this kind of behavior is where people go very wrong, and how in many situations people end up losing friends and loved ones.

But through all these experiences, I have one main idea as to how to approach someone who’s grieving – especially when you’re not absolutely sure what it is they believe: don’t make assumptions. Don’t approach them as though they are you. That’s where some people tend to get lost, though. They think, ‘Well, if I shouldn’t say to them what I think would comfort them, because it comforts me, then what is there to say?’

Maybe that’s the point: you don’t need to have something to say. Reciprocation just might be the better option when faced with the bereaved. Maybe approaching someone simply with a gift of listening to anything they have to say – really hearing them out and reciprocating those words – is the key. Because then it’s not about you and what you want to hear if you were in that person’s place and thinking, ‘oh jeez, I need to know all the right things to say so I’m just going to say what everyone else I know does.’ Stop yourself. Just listen. Listen and you very well might discover what that person wants to hear.

Truly listening to someone is the act of putting yourself second and that someone first. When many of us are faced with someone who is grieving, we’ll turn around and make ourselves our main priority. We start to become nervous about what WE need to say, about OUR discomfort, about how WE should deal with it all – and in that self-centered mindset we forget about the most important person in that situation. It’s not us. It’s that person who feels like they’re all alone in a world that’s crumbling around them because suddenly, they’re without that love they had for those precious moments it was alive.

4 responses to “Guest Post: Truly Listen”

  1. Anymouse says:
    The link above goes to Alternet, a liberal blogging platform in the USA.

    Greta Christina offers up eight ideas that a person of faith can use when confronted with an atheist who just lost someone in death. (They are also suitable for an atheist offering up condolences to someone else including a person of faith.)

    She also makes the case to those who don’t wish to offer a “tired phrase” such as “I am so sorry.” Grief and loss are universal, so the responses can be universal, too; they do not need to be rooted in faith nor a chance to proselytise. The phrase only needs to be sincere.

    One that sticks out (because I have done it before) is “What can I do to help?” You should never make that query unless you are willing to help. In the case of that query, the bereaved is probably overwhelmed by the many things in life that still go on — step up to the plate. Offering to wash laundry, mow the lawn, clean out the rain gutters, run errands, you name it. Be creative here, because a grieving person is not likely in a position to do even the most mundane tasks.

  2. Mel says:

    My mummum who was like a mother to me, just passed on March 10th. I am having a hard time coping with this. It was a horrible situation of neglect on my own parents’ part. And now she is gonna. I have a rollercoaster of emotions running through me all day every day. Mostly anger and resentment. It’s a terrible feeling and I don’t want to keep feeling this way. I do have a therapist that I have been seeing for 6 years but I wanted to participate with others who can relate to how I am feeling. My mummum was a wonderful woman. I was robbed of a lot of time with her due to my moms jealousy and keeping her against her will from the rest of the family, who only adored her. Then it lead to my parents neglecting her needs and not turning to us or medical officials for help. When we were informed of the horrible condition she was in, while already being treated in a hospital, I was a mess. I didn’t even recognize the lovely woman that had raised me. It broke my heart, especially when she didn’t remember who everyone was due to dimentia. I am so angry and upset.

  3. Mel says:

    I want my parents to pay for this, but I not getting a lot of assistance with this matter. These assholes are actually still living in my mummum’s house. Years ago, my mom manipulated her and forced her to will that piece of shit house to her. I have been told that may have to be sold to pay for her medical bills. Idk what exactly is going to happen but I want justice for her.

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