“Grief makes you awkward to be around sometimes!” proclaimed my dear cousin who recently faced the tragedy of losing her son in a traffic accident. Boy, is that ever true! As a bereavement counselor, I have learned to sit more comfortably than most in the presence of grief, yet even for me there are times when I hear stories that break my heart, take my breath away or bring me to silence. Yes, indeed, I think for most people grief is awkward. Often no one knows just what to say or not say, sometimes the words just don’t seem right or enough. Sometimes there are no words at all, but instead awkward silence. Grief has a way of sneaking up on us at the most inopportune moments and without warning the throat tightens and the tears well up, threatening to fall. Yet somehow, we must work through these moments both to draw on the strength of our friendships and to find a sense of living again.
So how do we work through these awkward moments:
1.Expect less of yourself and others
Sometimes whether we are the bereaved or the friend of the bereaved, we can kick ourselves for the things said and the things left unsaid. I think a certain amount of grace for ourselves and others is required in grief. Often there truly are no words for the heartache. Allowing awkward to be ok allows us to let the grief be as messy as it needs to be and as complex as it can be without judgement or rules.
2. Turning silence into comfort
There is a reason that moments of silence are used universally to remember those who have been lost. Perhaps silence is the best way we can honor our loved ones. Perhaps we can take those awkward, wordless blunders and turn them into meaningful moments. As I look back on my own grief journey, the folks that sat with me in silence and paused with me to remember my loved one ended up having the most impact on my journey. If the silence becomes remembering, perhaps it can bring comfort and care.
3. Hold a hand or offer a hug or look into the eyes
Sometimes when words are not enough, or we don’t know what to say, a pause to reach out a hand, offer a hug or look into a person’s eyes can break the awkward moment. When words cannot express love, perhaps a simple touch can.
I will leave you with the entirety of my cousin’s words (shared with her permission) as it more completely expresses the awkward moments of grief, the grace that comes with friendship, and how moving through it beautifully allows us to love in spite of our sadness.
“A friend of mine heard the news for the first time this week. He teaches on the east coast, we didn’t have any contact since [his death] – and he said, ‘I have no words.’ I told it him it was ok to just be awkward with me and it was actually kind of funny. Grief makes you awkward to be around sometimes. Some folks – they can’t deal with grief. That’s just the truth and that’s ok. But man, I love my kids and their dad and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. [So here’s to] the love we all share no matter what. Let’s be awkward and love each other anyway.”
We are here to support you in navigating this difficult journey we call grief. Call us, we are here for you.
Kelly Gehlhaar, MSW, ASW
Bereavement counselor and art therapist