Show up and shut up

Just show up and shut up.

This simple and sage advice was offered by Clair Jantzen, a local grief and loss therapist, last Sunday in Kelowna, at the Walk of Memories.

He’s a wise man.

The Walk of Memories is an annual, interactive opportunity for people who’ve experienced loss, to support themselves in their journey with grief. This walk is offered in partnership with Interior Health Authority and the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation.

In our grief-avoidant society, topics surrounding death seem taboo for many. There are many reasons for this avoidance. It’s uncomfortable. This topic may touch our pain and remind us of our own mortality.

Issues around death and grief remain a mystery for many, and often we’re misinformed.

I’m one of many in Kelowna keen to bring this topic out of the shadows and into conversation.

Death, loss, and grief are facts of life. We’ll all experience them, and we can better support ourselves, and one another, by learning more about them.

We may never like the topic, but we can become more comfortable and supportive during this inevitable fact of life.

In an earlier column, I wrote about grief, and it’s many faces.

Grief’s not a predictable, tidy process, and it doesn’t just show up as an emotion of sadness. It affects us on every level of our being.

Grief has some very different faces, and there’s no normal grieving response.

How do we support friends and family who’re grieving? What can we do?

In those days immediately following a death, doing thoughtful things to support basic needs of the bereaved is a powerful act of caring.

Simple things such as sending food, taking care of yard duties, or tasks of life offer support in ways words never can.

I remember one powerful story of a man who simply showed up to shine shoes. He knew the family needed their shoes cleaned up for the service. He quietly came, and he did that. This simple act meant more to the family than anything.

After the funeral is over and everyone goes back to life’s routines, there’s nothing routine for those who’ve lost a major person in their lives.

Don’t assume they’re OK just because they seemed fine at the funeral.

The meaning and reality of the loss, the real grief, often doesn’t occur in the time immediately following a loss. The shock of it all can create a numbness, making it appear they’re ‘doing well’ soon after the loss.

Reality sinks in as people attempt to reconstruct their lives that are forever changed.

Grieving people often feel abandoned by friends when they need them most. Friendships can be lost, only compounding the grief of the newly bereaved.

One grieving widow felt like she had a contagious disease because people stayed away. Maybe she did and the contagious disease was grief.

Avoid offering the platitudes so often repeated following a death, such as “they’re in a better place,” etc. These often only add to the pain, and may even cause anger and a sense of increased isolation.

I’ve often wondered if we use these sayings to comfort ourselves when words fail us.

Allow people the freedom to grieve their way, not assuming we know how they are feeling, because we’re all different. Simply find out how they’re feeling and be OK with it. Meet them where they’re at and journey with them.

Nothing we say may ever ease the pain of grief, but our presence can.

This is a time when asking questions about how they are and what they need is important. Being prepared to be comfortable with not having answers, but being willing to listen, and listen, and listen.

Reaching out on days of great significance can also help. Supporting a grieving person on birthdays, anniversaries, and days of importance is helpful.

There’s no prescription for how to best support during this time, because there’s no cookie-cutter process for grief.

Knowing we’re supported and cared for as we grieve matters.

Being willing to move toward people who’re hurting, being willing to move past our own discomfort and uncertainty, and offering the gift of caring, human presence is supportive.

This is such a big topic. As we learn more about grief, we can better equip ourselves to support ourselves, and one another after a loss.

Clair Jantzen offers workshops to enhance our ability to more fully show up and be a support during grief. Central Okanagan Hospice Association is another rich resource.

The answer may be simpler than you know. Simply follow Clair’s advice.

Show up, and shut up, and listen.  See where they’re at and what they need, and do that.

This one’s for you Sarah.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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