In Chapter 1 we talk about different ways to help situations de-escalate, and one of the strategies that we mention is the helpful art of presence…being there and being available for people during their times of need, especially the trauma of significant loss. It is often very difficult for us to not “fix” things but to just be there and be supportive.

I think all of us have some experience with loss – either we have suffered loss or we have known someone close to us that has experienced loss. Either way, there are some things to remember:

1. Go over. My grandmother and I once had a conversation about whether or not you should go to a person’s house when they have lost a loved one. My wonderful grandmother’s advice? Always go over. I have heard so many people mention how touched they were by the presence of a friend, neighbor, or co-worker. So, when in doubt…go over.

2. Resist. In our attempts to offer comforting words, we sometimes marginalize people’s feelings. Avoid “I know how you feel” or “you’ll get over it” or other similar phrases. Each person’s experience is unique and their feelings are very real. I also personally took offense when people said of my 86-year old grandmother “she lived a good, long life.” Pardon me, but not nearly long enough in my opinion.

3. Remember. There are many firsts that will be coming up in the next months and year. The first birthday without the loved one; first mother’s or father’s day; or, the anniversary of the loved one’s passing. Many people are there in the days leading up to the funeral or memorial service, but grieving doesn’t stop then. A phone call, text, card or letter to mark one of these “firsts” can do much to show we care. When my own mother passed I was touched when several people reached out to me four months later when Mother’s Day rolled around. One of my very best friends from forever not only sent me a card but a lengthy hand written note full of her memories of my mom. What a gift!

4. Be passive. I read something once about being passively attentive. That is not trying to fix or solve things. Being attentive to people’s needs without the need to control or steer the outcome. Sitting silently through the moments of pain and allowing people their own process.
Today this post is particularly personal to me. I am writing this on the one-year anniversary of the death of a very dear friend of mine. Last night I spent the night at the home of his mother. I took her twenty-two hand written letters I received from him in 1982-1983 while he was in the Army. We laughed over the funny stories contained in those pages and then we cried many tears of sorrow for his passing. As I said good-bye today (after a visit to the cemetery) she thanked me again and again for remembering her today.

Such a simple thing, but something that made a big difference…the helpful art of presence.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty Supervisor