The further my life’s journey extends into its seventh decade, the more I seem to recognize the reality of loss within myself and others. Someone older told me some three decades ago there would come a time when I would read the obituary column with as much interest as the front page. That day has come as more of my own generation are writing their final chapters. Recently, Paul Allen became the most notable. Both of us were born in 1953. Sobering!
The reality needing definition, recognition, and management is grief. Grief is an often blunt and brutal emotion that rears its head anytime we experience loss. Decades back, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—and yet, we continue to have great difficulty recognizing grief’s presence in ourselves and others.
Such failure can be catastrophic! We who spend our professional lives serving clients, shaping their dreams, managing their assets and expectations, must become adept at recognizing grief’s many faces. I would be tempted to call these faces “masks” were it not for the fact that grief cannot be so easily removed.
My experience has taught me that loss seems to possess a life for a season, erupting in unexpected ways, seldom void of palpable emotion. When those intense, even irrational feelings bolt from ourselves or another, being unprepared can be numbing, even hurtful.
So, what can we do? First, tell yourself every day as you transition from private to public spaces that you will, in all likelihood, engage others who are going through some kind of loss. That person may be you! Your blood work came back with some troubling numbers, your relationship with spouse or partner is in a rocky place, a friend has just died, a beloved pet had to be put down. Remember those with whom you visit or connect with on a call may be in a similar place. Learn to be “grief aware” every day.
Second, give yourself and others permission to grieve. When you are with someone who is unusually quiet or withdrawn, or who responds to the “How are you today?” question with a pause or even a bit of pain, stop and give that person more of you. Find the courage to ask, “You seem troubled by something. Would you be comfortable talking?” And then listen, take in the face, the words, the feeling. Be present with nothing more than basic human empathy and care.
Third, remember that when grief goes viral in our souls, we speak and act in ways that may not be our best selves. When you find yourself, a colleague, or client a bit snippy, even taking you on for something that may have no referent in your behavior, recognize that grief may be in play. More times than not unleashed anger that comes out of the proverbial “blue,” stems from a grieving, hurting person. Such outbursts, in my experience, speak more to the pain in the perpetrator than any deed the recipient may be accused of doing.
Here’s the takeaway: Dial into the reality of grief in the human experience. Doing so, both in your life and the lives of others, will empower you to be a more caring advisor, colleague, spouse, parent, neighbor, and friend.