Companioning the bereaved is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

Author: Alan Wolfelt


"Things come suitable to their time."

- Enid Bagnold

Many of the messages that people in grief are given are in opposition to stillness… "carry on;" "keep your chin up;" "keep busy;" "I have someone for you to meet." Yet, the paradox for many grievers is that as they try to frantically move forward, they often lose their way.

Companioning

As a companion, your capacity to be still with the mourner will help them honor the deeper voices of quiet wisdom. As Rainer Marie Rilke observed, "Everything is gestation and then bringing forth." In honoring stillness, you help the mourner rest for the journey.

Times of stillness are not anchored in a psychological need but in a spiritual necessity. A lack of stillness hastens confusion and disorientation and results in a waning of the spirit. If the mourner does not rest in stillness, they cannot and will not find their way out of the wilderness of grief. Stillness allows for movement from soul work to spirit work; it restores the life force.

Within the sanctuary of stillness, discernment that is bathed in grace and wisdom is born. Thus, one of my mantras as a caregiver is, "Go slow; there are no rewards for speed." Grief is only transformed when we honor the quiet forces of stillness.

Without Stillness

Without stillness the mourner cannot create the energy needed to embrace the work of mourning. In sitting with suffering in stillness, you make yourself available for those you companion to give voice to their grief. You become present to the insight and wisdom that comes forth only out of stillness. It's as if the stillness invites the head to settle gently in the heart.

Without stillness, the mourner lacks a foundation from which to, eventually, transform grief into renewed meaning and purpose. The mourner needs stillness to encounter the full force of the powerful nature of grief. Out of the stillness often comes the inspiration to be respectful of grief, to seek the wisdom of those who have gone before.

Observation has taught me that the integration of grief is borne out of stillness, not frantic movement forward. By saying no to the use of techniques to try to "make something happen," sacred space arises for things to happen; divine momentum is set in motion. When we stop managing grief, other things such as grace, wisdom, love and truth come forth.

In honoring stillness as a companion to someone in grief, you discover that spiritual forces evolve that discourage striving and encourage rest and eventual renewal. Attempting to consciously move forward, or worse yet, making any attempt to get a survivor to "let go," becomes counterproductive. Frantic movement forward depletes an already naturally malnourished soul. It is through stillness that one's soul is ever so slowly restored.

Stillness and Pain

As a companion, you will be well served to focus your heart's attention on the importance of stillness in relation to pain and suffering. If you do not perceive value in the role of pain in healing it will be all but impossible to be still with people in grief.

If you in any way perceive the pain of grief as unnecessary or inappropriate, you will be reluctant to be in the stillness. In stillness, you come face to face with the essence of grief and raw feelings of loss and profound sadness. At times, you will confront the dark night of the soul-a profound sense of spiritual deprivation wherein the person you are companioning may well question the very desire to go on living.

If you do not see that it is in hurting that we ultimately heal, you will greet stillness with anxiety and fear. Fearful of what you might find in the stillness, you will instinctively push stillness away, keeping yourself and the mourner busy with techniques intended to avoid the depth of a multitude of feelings. In stillness, as you stop and listen, you will hear and feel the emptiness that accompanies grief.

By contrast, if you surrender to the reality that pain and suffering are part of the healing journey, you can sit with the stillness. You can step back from any urge to fix the pain. You can appreciate and trust that out of the darkness will eventually come the light. You will see the underlying strength and wisdom that is borne out of respect for the stillness. You will come to see that it is out of the stillness that the person discovers that authentic mourning invites the blessings of living fully each and every day.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt's book Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers, available at bookstores and at Dr. Wolfelt's website, www.centerforloss.com. Dr. Wolfelt is an internationally noted author, teacher and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is an educational consultant to funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, schools and a variety of community agencies across North America.