Circles of Grief - Comfort In, Dumping Out.
The best explanation I have ever heard for how to support a grieving person is a technique developed by Susan Silk, which is very helpful in clarifying boundaries for those who may also be affected by grief themselves.
We are wired for connection and empathy, so when someone close to us dies, our immediate response is to want to help. But how can we do that when we are also hurting, or just don’t know what to do or say?
The circles of grief can be a good place to start, because the last thing you want is to add to more distress to those who were closest to the person who died.
Start by small circle in the middle of a blank page. In this ring write the name of the person who is at the centre of the trauma. For example, my best friend would have written my name my in the centre circle. But for me, even though I was right in the middle of the grief bull’s eye, my children’s name went into the middle of the ring.
Once you have done that, draw a larger circle around the first one and in that circle write the name of the person/persons who is/are the next most afflicted by the trauma. I wrote my name on that circle, but my friend wrote my children’s name on that second circle.
After that, repeat the process, drawing circles after circles and placing the names of people within each ring based on how close was their relationship with the person who passed away and how affected they may be by the death. You can repeat this process as many times as needed. Children and parents come before distant relatives, close friends come before work colleagues. Once you are done, you will have a Kvetching Order. Now it's time to set the rules and boundaries.
The person in the centre ring can say, or not say, anything he/she wats to anyone else in any of the other rings (with the exception of course of any children in the ring). He/she can complain, cry, question, curse, moan, even have a massive pity party. (Yes you heard me right, because there is nothing wrong with feeling sorry for yourself for quite some time when your number one person dies.) The person in the centre of the ring can dump his/her grief on everyone else. That is the only pay off for being in the middle of the shit storm.
Everyone else, again with the exception of children, can do those things too, but ONLY to people in larger rings. NEVER to people in smaller rings.
If you are in the third circle, say you are a childhood friend of the person who died, of course you will be grieving and need support and comfort, but you can only seek that from those who are either in the same circle as you or in circles that are larger than yours. Its a big no-no to dump your pain and grief on the parents or the spouse of the deceased. You can only comfort them, be there for them, listen, help as they need to be helped (not as you would wanted to be helped or as you think they should be helped), comfort goes in and all your dumping goes out.
Listening is much more helpful than talking, giving advice or sharing about your own feelings and struggles. Before you open your mouth ask yourself if what you are going to say will provide comfort and support.
Don’t give advice unless asked. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need a listening ear. Things like “It’s hard for me too”, or “You need to know what happened to me when...”, or"I know how you are feeling”, or “You need to be strong”, or“If I was in your place I would…"are definitely NOT helpful. They are actually harmful.
Saying “I’m so sorry”, or “This must be so tough for you”, or “I can help you with…”, or “I will bring dinner over, would prefer a Chinese or Indian?”, or “I will text you, and if you want to talk just send me a ’thumbs up’ emoji” are simple ways to be present and show willingness to help.
Whatever you choose to do and say, when you are talking with people in the centre rings, be there for them. Don’t make it about you even if you are also grieving . It’s completely normal that the events may trigger some past grief for you too, and you may need to cry, complain, throw a fit. Just make sure you do it to someone in a larger ring, not to those closest to centre of the tragedy.
Remember, comfort goes in. Dumping goes out.
Dumping your grief on someone in smaller rings is distressing for them and it doesn’t do you any good either. But being supportive to the people who are caring for the ones most affected by the trauma may be the best thing you can do.
Don’t just avoid dumping to the person at the bull eye, avoid dumping to anyone in smaller circles tham yours.
This was such an empowering revelation for me, because I felt overwhelmed and suffocated by so many well intentioned people coming to dump their grief on me when I was the one who lost my husband. Once I understood this, I was able to set healthier boundaries, and to surround myself only with people who could give me the comfort and support I so desperately needed.
I know people didn’t mean to be rude or inconsiderate. On the contrary, I think that most people felt that if they shared their grief with me, about Jason or about someone else they lost, it was a statement of how much they loved my husband, or of how much they ‘understood’ my pain. When they dumped their grief on me, I felt angry, hurt, paralysed by fear and utterly lonely. I felt that they were dismissing my pain, minimising my loss, and disrespecting me and my experience of grief.
The friends who stayed close to me and who were able to provide comfort and support that really helped where those who also loved Jason and grieved for him, but who were able to put their pain aside when they sat by my side. They witnessed my cries, my shouts, my explosions and break drowns without trying to fix me, and without dumping their grief on me either. I was at the centre of the grief circle so they brought comfort in, and they sought comfort from those on outside circles.
For me, since my kids were in the centre ring of the grief circle, I had to be very aware not to dump my grief on them. Even though I was completely distraught, I had to find strength to comfort them and seek my comfort from others. Again, comfort in, dumping out.