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  • Writer's pictureAllison Ramsey, MS, LCMHC

Don't Judge the Griever

Don't Judge the Griever

There was a tragic accident in my extended family where a 19 year old was killed. His was the first visitation and funeral that I’ve attended since becoming a grief counselor. Now that I’ve been seeing clients daily primarily for processing grief, it was a very different experience from the inside. I was paying attention to the variety of ways that people were processing this horrendous loss. (And yes I realize my way of processing was to be curious about how others were processing.) For three days I talked with friends and family members and the thing that struck me the most was how quick people were to judge how the boy’s immediate family was grieving. I heard things like “He/she’s handling this really well.” or “He/she’s a wreck.” People were so quick to take a momentary experience with the bereaved and use that as an indication of their ongoing psychological well-being.

This is a message to the immediate grievers and those judging the grievers. People grieve differently. Grief is a reaction. This means how someone immediately grieves is not premeditated or planned. There isn’t a right way to grieve. There is helpful “grief work” that can be done to process the loss, but grief itself just happens. Sometimes people react with anger, sadness, the desire to connect, irritation, reclusiveness, laughter, or numbness. And these things happen over and over again throughout the bereavement period. What’s confusing about this is that two people’s grief rarely line up on the same timeline. And when one griever feels anger and the other is sad, it can make it difficult for those people to feel supportive to one another. And so they separate and judge each other.

This variety of grief reactions helps us to dose ourselves with grief. Our bodies and brains just cannot tolerate being that sad all of the time. So our brain allows us to get distracted. At the visitation I witnessed over and over again seeing someone I hadn’t seen in a while, greeting each other somberly, hugging, talking about the deceased, then the conversation went elsewhere. And just for a moment it was as if we had forgotten why we were there, catching up: they find out I live in Asheville, they tell me about a time they’d visited there...then someone else would approach us, we would greet the person somberly, hug, talk about the deceased, then the conversation goes elsewhere. It was like that over and over for the four hours we were at the visitation, and I think it was like that for everyone. We just can’t be with the weight of grief for too long at a time.

And when I say “don’t judge the griever” that goes for yourself as well. You are allowed to have your reactions, whatever they may be. Your logical mind may come in and say “this reaction doesn’t line up with what would be expected for this loss.” But it would be wrong. Your reaction is your reaction and I just ask that you have curiosity about that, not judgment. It's just not helpful. Read about how to really help your grieving friend.

Allison Ramsey is a certified grief counselor in Asheville, NC. She helps people transform loss into meaning. Contact her to start learning how to feel better.

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