Grief affects many different people in many different ways. I am a firm believer that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a personal process that looks very different depending on the person and the circumstance. I have counseled many people through many different types of grief, and no grief has ever been the same. I have often heard the same complaint, however, from clients that are closely connected to the loss. The complaint is that the person most affected by the grief often spends a lot of time feeling that they need to comfort others.
It often begins quite innocently, a neighbor bringing by a casserole to offer condolences, or an acquaintance stopping by the viewing to pay their respects. Many people might not even be aware of how much the loss is affecting them, until they are in the moment, face to face with the grieving survivor, and they break down. Before either party knows it, the comforter has become the comforted. This often leads to guilt and resentment.
Grief can be ambiguous and it can take us by surprise. Sometimes grief hits us when we least expect it, especially if the loss isn’t someone who we knew or were close to. Grief should be processed, rather than held it, but how does one grieve without making it worse on those people who were more directly affected?
An interesting LA Times article by Silk and Goldman (2013) explored a general rule of thumb during grief to help prevent someone from saying the wrong thing to the deeply afflicted. The idea is “Comfort in, Dump out” (Silk & Goldman, 2013). Take a look at the drawing above. In the center of the circle is the person most affected directly by the loss, the next circle are those significantly affected, then moderately affected, then sort of affected, and so on. The idea is that when interacting with a person who is closer to the center than you are, stick to comforting and let it be about them. To deal with your own grief, find someone in your outer circle, and express your grief to him or her. This general rule of thumb allows everyone to grieve in his or her own way, without adding to the grief of someone else. It allows us to utilize the resources that are stronger, rather then depleting the resources that are already exhausted.
Grief is a tricky thing, and most people do not know what to say. As a starting point, remember to comfort in and dump out.
Silk, S., & Goldman, B. (2013, April 13). How not to say the wrong thing. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407,0,2074046.story
(Silk & Goldman, 2013)