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Talking About Loss

This year everyone has lost something and some have lost everything.  As we wrestle with loss, one of the most important things we can do is talk about it with someone.  When we share our pain with a friend or loved one, counselor or pastor, we allow room to, carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  What a powerful statement!  Why, then, is it so hard (at least hard for me) to be open and honest about loss, pain, and other burdens?  This statement comes from Paul's letter to the Galatians, and he follows with a few more that are pretty revealing about human nature.
 
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

I can't speak for you, but often when I am unwilling or unable to talk about loss and pain, it is because I am either trying to keep up a brave face for someone else or I am actually not being honest with myself about how hard things are.  Usually both are true at the same time.  In an effort to be strong for a spouse, child, or friend, it is common to keep quiet about our own pain.  Rather than a means of support, however, that silence tends to signal to those around us that they cannot share their feelings either.  We deceive ourselves about our own feelings and about what is best for those around us.

Sometimes I am afraid that no one will be able to help, even if I do say something, and so it feels safer just to stay silent.  Or, I convince myself that my loss is not as significant as those around me and so I should keep it to myself.  Both of these scenarios are about pride and comparison.  Pride can manifest as self-pity or an ideation that my issues are somehow bigger than anyone could handle.  The only remedy for such thoughts is to share them.  Similarly, comparison will keep the focus zeroed in on myself and my problem, allowing it to grow unchecked.  Talking with someone helps us have a clearer perspective about the size of our problem and the support available in our community.

At first blush, Paul's statement, for each one should carry their own load, seems to contradict carrying each other's burdens.  Instead, Paul is tugging on the thread of self-focus to draw us back into the responsibility we have to shoulder our part.  Some days we will lean on others, and some days they will lean on us.  Telling our stories opens the door for others to share their own feelings of loss.  This dance of vulnerability is a vital part of genuine relationships and Christian community.
 
Here are some practical ways to help us talk about loss.

When telling your story:
  • ask about a good time to talk to ensure that the person you want to share with has the time and energy to listen to your whole story
  • be patient with yourself and your support person, neither of you might know what to say or how to convey your feelings clearly
  • consider jotting down some of the key words or ideas you share, or some of the encouragement your support person gives you so that you can reflect on these insights later

When supporting someone as a listener:
  • if the timing is not good, reschedule with your friend or loved one, but be specific so that they still feel supported and know you care
  • listen carefully, reflecting back what you hear occasionally or asking clarifying questions so your friend knows they have been heard and understood
  • you do not need to say anything profound, your willingness to listen is most important
  • if you have concerns about your loved one’s health or safety, it is ok to ask questions about their eating and sleeping habits, self-medicating and self-harm; these questions let them know you care

Talking about loss will not be the most fun you've had on a Saturday night, but it can certainly build depth and trust in your relationships and help you cope with your own losses.  Moreover, as you share another's burden you are fulfilling the law of Christ, or more simply put, loving like Jesus.

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