The practice of yoga invites us to sit with discomfort, even asking pain to tell us its story so we can better respond and heal. But what happens when the discomfort isn’t in your body, but in the mind and heart of someone you love?
Here’s the truth: Grief and loss are a large part of our lives. They show up with the friend who had a miscarriage, the colleague whose parent just died, or when a chronic illness changes your family’s life. And it’s not just grief in your personal life that you’ll have to face; with so much loss and heartbreak in the news, we are increasingly asked to respond skillfully to the pain of the world. The practice of showing up for what hurts is part of a yogic relationship with the world, even if it doesn’t involve asana.
The problem is, most of us don’t really talk about grief—so it’s common to feel ill-equipped to know what to do when someone in your world is in a dark place. Western culture is stuck in a decades’ old model of grief that isn’t in line with what we know about healthy interpersonal relationships. Cheering people up, telling them to look on the bright side, and even encouraging them to find the gift inside their pain—none of this works. If we’re going to get better at supporting each other and have a shot at getting at what we all really want—to love and be loved inside our deepest pain—we need to talk about what isn’t working and what really helps.
What I hear from my students and clients is that what they most want is to be acknowledged in their grief, not encouraged out of it. It seems counterintuitive, but the way to make someone feel better is to let them be in pain. It’s actually a radical act to let things hurt. And because it’s so radical, it’s not always easy. It might feel awkward or uncomfortable to simply let pain exist. Breaking the habit of giving advice or cheering someone up can feel strange at first. But that awkward feeling is a good sign. It means you’re moving in a new direction.
To help you get even better at supporting a grieving friend or family member, here are eight basic ground rules. Paired with classic yogic teachings on the power of presence and being comfortable with discomfort, these simple guidelines can help you be the friend you most want to be to your loved ones, students, colleagues, and anyone else in your life who are most in need.
About the Author
Megan Devine is a grief expert and author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK.