Grieving must be Witnessed

posted in: Grief Recovery 0

For many of us, the society we live in encourages conformity and stomps on individuality. When we experience a loss, is it any wonder we attempt to fit ourselves into the predesigned grief outline of “one size fits all”? In our Western culture there is little room for individuality in our grief and few opportunities for our grief to be witnessed and respected as our own.

As a Grief Recovery Method Specialist, I have observed what typically keeps us trapped in our pain is our inability to be heard and to have our feelings witnessed and respected. Anything less than this, we receive the message our feelings do not matter. When we are uncomfortable or feel unsafe in sharing, we do what we have been taught to do in order to maintain acceptance by our family and friends; we suppress and bury our emotions.

Where does our grief come from? It could be any change in something which was familiar. Or it could be an emotional loss such as the death of a pet, a broken relationship, or a missed promotion. These can all stir up negative emotions. Or it could be the conflicting emotions of a move, a change in our financial situation, graduation, or even the birth of a baby. While typically positive situations, they still have the capacity of leaving us with unresolved emotions of grief.

We can also experience grief based upon situations we wished had been better, different, or more. It could be for unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations. We can grieve a missed vacation, a violation of our personal space, unemployment, retirement, even bearing witness to or experiencing a trauma.

There is much misinformation surrounding grief. Many times, when we attempt to share our emotions, we are told to “get over it” and others may imply our loss is not a big deal. We quickly realize our emotions do not matter, and the safe place we thought we had has suddenly vanished.

Our relationship to the person or the event, which caused our sadness, is personal and unique to us and only us. Even members of the same family will bring different experiences, beliefs, and perspectives to the death of a family member based upon their personal relationship with this person.

Our process for identifying the emotions of our grief should be just as unique as our fingerprint. Unfortunately, time after time we are expected to grieve following a prescribed format labeled “The Stages of Grief.”

At The Grief Recovery Institute, we do not believe the emotions felt by a griever would be universally similar to another person who is grieving. We understand grievers may experience common symptoms of grief, such as exhaustion, lack of focus, a change is eating and sleeping patterns, coupled by a roller coaster of emotions. However, there are no definitive stages which must be experienced in order to move through our pain.

Even when the impact of our loss appears to be understood, the need to conform and grieve in a predictable manner prevents us from having our true and honest emotions witnessed. Grief becomes even more challenging when we are expected to act in a certain way.

Grieving is not a “one size fits all” experience. No one else can possibly know what we feel or how we think about the loss we have experienced. When we compare our losses and our reactions to other losses, we rob ourselves, and others, of the intimacy of their unique relationships.

As humans we tend to see life from an either/or perspective. We are right or we are wrong. We are tall or we are short. We are dead or we are alive. This too can lead to misunderstandings of how death affects us. While the person we cared about is no longer physically present in our lives, we do continue to have an emotional relationship with them: We remember things which we may wish had been different. We may ponder the loss of a particular dream or our vision of the future with this person. While there is the need to complete what has been left emotional unfinished, the memories remain forever.

When you witness the words and sharing of another’s heart break you give them the gift of being heard. When you are able to listen without judgment, criticism or offering advice you become a safe place where their emotions are respected. During this time, your thoughts and opinions should be kept to yourself; especially if they are negative. When you provide a safe place where the griever is able to fully express, present with honesty, the emotions they are feeling you support them completely. Healing happens when we are given the opportunity to feel and acknowledge our grief; honoring every loss has meaning to the one who has lost.

The journey of recovering from grief is an inside job. This does not mean we do not appreciate company along the way; someone to hold our hand, to offer a home cooked meal, or to sit in silence as we express how we are feeling. You can support a griever by inviting a conversation: ask them about the person; how this loss happened; what their relationship was like; what were their special attributes; what were their special attributes; allow them to understand you cannot begin to imagine how devastating this must be for them.

Most people find there are things which have been left unsaid. When they have the opportunity to say them aloud to someone listening, it allows those words to be heard. It is through the witnessing of these emotions we are able to begin moving forward through our pain.

Tammy Adams, offering grief support, in-person or online, Canada-wide.

To learn more about the Grief Recovery Method process and how to “let go” of the past book a 20 minute free phone consult with Tammy Adams, Certified Grief Recovery Method Specialist.  Learn more at