I frequently get asked questions about why I live in Greenwood. One particular interaction stands out.

I was tutoring a student in my church’s youth group, helping him out with some English. He loved the mountains and hiking, and he would tell me about different places he wanted to go. One such time he asked me why I would choose to live in Greenwood, since my family is from the Midwest and I have no familial ties here.

I told him that the thing that keeps me in Greenwood is the community: the fact that you can go to Greenwood Market Place and see your neighbors or go walking and run into person after person who you know.

Our community has been hit hard by loss in the past couple of weeks. We’ve experienced losses that are hard to understand.

In my experience, grief is one of the hardest experiences in which to walk alongside others, as there’s always a feeling of helplessness in just sitting there and listening to them pour out their pain, knowing that nothing you say can take it away.

I’ll never forget sitting in my counseling office and meeting with a mother who had lost her child in a tragic accident. Her pain permeated the air, and there was nothing I could do or say to take it away. That feeling of being helpless and not having anything to say is incredibly difficult, as we long to offer something to help take away the pain of those who are hurting.

What can you do to walk alongside those who are grieving?

Here are some pointers as we support those in our community who are hurting.

First, show up. This is something that Southerners do perhaps better than any group of people I’ve ever seen. Your presence is oftentimes more important than your words.

Be there for those who are grieving, not only the week of their loss but also in the months and years to come. Showing up can mean more than just physically being present at someone’s house. You can show up by writing them a letter, sending them a text to let them know you are thinking about them or bringing them a meal.

The first couple of weeks after a loss are often a blur; those who are grieving might only remember bits and pieces of days or even weeks after the death of their loved one. One thing that is especially hard is when life returns to “normal” for everyone else, and they are still stuck in the fact that a normal life will never resume. Be intentional to show up in those moments.

Second, say something to them. I’ve heard those who are grieving say that it sometimes feels like you have some infectious disease that a lot of people avoid. It can be so hard to know what to say to people who are hurting, but that doesn’t mean that you should avoid talking to them. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to say something because they don’t want to make those who are grieving feel sad or remind them of their loss. Don’t be afraid of this. For people who are grieving, their loss is with them nearly every breath they take. You aren’t going to remind them of it, because they don’t forget the loss.

Finally, don’t try to explain away their loss. Too often we might say something such as, “Well, we know that they’re in a better place” or “Everything happens for a reason.” While there can be truth to statements such as these, they aren’t usually comforting.

Instead of trying to take away their sadness, lean into it with them. Cry with them when they are hurting, reminisce when they are remembering and be present when they are in need of a hug.

Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to mmccray@wpcgreenwood.org.

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