Emotional poise is lost on many in Western culture today. The truth is that we have a difficult time dealing with death. Why is it that?
Of course, we love life, but we also know that a part of living is dying. And communicating when faced with death and dying is not just a problem with our own inevitable demise; avoidance and denial of the issues can cause us to be rote, ineffective sympathizers.
Unfamiliarity with our deepest fears, feelings and emotions causes us to be awkward and at a loss for words during difficult times. Lacking a facility for communicating our emotions robs those close to us in bereavement of the comfort and support we might provide.
It’s not about you even though it causes you to confront your own mortality.
We (Americans) don’t treat and honor death and dying as a part of the natural human process. Our lack of comfort with it is an expression of our dread and fear.
Over the years, I have witnessed so many people visiting and talking to, or trying to talk to, loved ones who are going through a serious illness or in the process of dying. Our lack of knowledge, combined with our inability to accept death as the completion of a normal cycle that occurs everywhere on earth, causes us to be ill prepared and not our real selves when death comes knocking at our door.
Communicating from a deeper, genuine place provides healing.
Last week, my second husband and father of my daughter, died of lung cancer. He had been diagnosed only two months before, and now he is gone. There have been so many Facebook comments to my daughter that say, “I’m so sorry for your loss”… and little more.
However, when we learn to dig a little deeper into our hearts and spirit, we can come up with something more original than that tired old way of getting us off the spot. We can be of genuine service to our suffering friends and loved ones.
People lacking emotional poise take the “easy way out” when it comes to expressing their feelings to friends and family who are in the midst of suffering or loss. What about just speaking from our hearts, expressing how our words may not say everything we are feeling? Instead, revealing that we feel helpless and wish that we could relieve some of their pain acknowledges the deep truths we share and creates intimacy and healing.
Compassion means ‘to suffer with.’ Here are some ways to deepen your ability to help, and define your compassion quotient:
- Don’t avoid the bereaved assuming they’d rather be alone or with other close family or friends.
- Don’t wait until ‘the right time’ or until enough time has passed. You risk appearing unfeeling or aloof.
- Do send a handwritten note. It’s a wonderful opportunity to offer thoughtful condolences. Collect your thoughts and feelings and compose an appropriate message. Whether you were intimately acquainted with the deceased or had never met them, add a personal memory or a brief anecdote about a quality you recognized in them. Even if it’s only second hand, such as: “Although I never met your father, I remember how you loved his playfulness (or willingness to help, or his unwavering support, etc.)” This can mean so much!
- Don’t encourage them to “get over it” or assure them it will get better with time. This only minimizes the loss.
- Offer your time. This could be an afternoon tea where you reminisce together, or it could be just an extra minute or two on the phone. “Being there” for your friend instead of rushing off to the world of the living shows you care.
- Unless it would clearly upset your friend, don’t hesitate to gently recall the deceased in the coming weeks – even months or years. They didn’t forget him and will appreciate that you didn’t either.
- Most importantly, become aware of your emotional response to the highs and lows of life. Don’t try to avoid or deny the response. Allow the feelings and emotions of the event to be present (because they are). Keep breathing while attuning to the experience.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a greater capacity for understanding, compassion and grace, as you become more familiar, if not comfortable, with pain and suffering and the rest.
Our ability to experience a tremendous range of emotions and communicate them is what makes us human. Embrace this ability, and you will become stronger – even as you feel more vulnerable.
Emotional poise acknowledges this truth: This too shall pass. And so will we all.
Are you having difficulty communicating how you’re feeling? Learning to express your emotions can bring incredible success to your relationships in business – and in life. Get my FREE video tips on communicating more successfully!