Responding Healer-to-Healer: Companionship Needs of the Grieving Elder

This month, we have been sharing support and tools2thrive related to various types of grief and loss. It is also important to think about how we can help others on their grief journey. In her book, Doing Grief in Real Life: A Soulful Guide to Navigate Loss, Death and Change, Rev. Shea Darian offers a chapter entitled Responding Healer-to-Healer: Companionship Needs of the Grieving Elder. The following is a snapshot of how each of us can provide companionship to one another. We used this with her permission. You can visit to order your copy of the book. We also have a few copies available in the office.

As a grieving companion, it is not your job to heal grief for another. It is your job to heal grief for yourself. Even so, motivation for self-healing is often discovered in your relationships with others – in your efforts to empower others to grieve and heal, and allow others to empower you. Unfortunately, we elders are often ill-prepared to respond to the grief of another. Indeed, there is a silent mantra that commonly arises among adults of all ages whenever a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance is grieving. It goes something like this: “I feel so useless; I don’t know what to do or a way to help.” This experience of discomfort may cause you to spout ready-made answers to fill the void or to fall silent and quietly slip away to allow a griever to figure out their approach to grieving and healing on their own. Sometimes, that may even be what the other person prefers. But, when someone you know is hurting, it’s not the time to succumb to your feelings and thoughts of ina equacy.

NEWSFLASH: No one (and I mean no one) always has the perfect response to human suffering. No one (and I mean no one) has the magic words that will heal another’s grief-related pain. But don’t let that stop you. Serving as a grieving companion for another requires a good bit of vulnerability and risk-taking. Sometimes you will feel awkward and unsure of yourself. Sometimes you will even do or say the wrong thing. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Whatever happens, be willing to admit your learning curve and try again until you get it right. It may help to speak your doubts aloud to the one who is hurting: “I feel so useless. I don’t know what to say or do to help.” if that’s all you can think to say, it’s a first step to being useful because you are being responsive to someone else’s grief in a way that communicates your caring. As the Chinese Philosopher Laozi once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” From that starting place, you can continue to ho e your skills as a grieving companion.

Polaris: Serving as a North Star for Grieving Adults of all Ages

In the Northern hemisphere, when you look at the sky on a cloudless night, there is a star called “Polaris,” or the “North Star,” that can be found at the end of the Little Dipper constellation. In various myths and legends, it is the star that guides home those who are lost – no matter which direction home is. As a grieving companion, the symbolism reminds you to be someone who stays the journey and doesn’t walk away when the going gets rough. It reminds you to be the kind of grieving companion who offers another griever hope of finding “home” again in a world that has shifted. When you serve as another’s North Star, you provide any or all of the seven gifts that the word P-O-L-A-R-I-S represents. The following page is a tool that will help you to prepare and order your thoughts on how to be an effective grieving companion. Remember: Practice makes progress.