In the chapter titled “Simple and Profound,” Dr. Haugk shares seven caring actions that, based on his research, are "sure winners." In and of themselves, these actions tend to be very simple, but when included while you’re relating with your hurting loved one at opportune times, can have a profound positive effect on them. Last time, we looked at the two actions of Genuine Prayer and Showing Up. This time, we continue with two more.
Naming the Elephant
Imagine that you and others are visiting at a friend's house. In the room is a large elephant. Everyone can see it, smell it and hear it, but no one the entire evening mentions or acknowledges the presence of the elephant.
Perhaps you have experienced a similar situation where a painful event happened to someone. You and others know about the crisis and loss and your friend knows you know too, but no one dares mention the one thing the hurting person hopes you will mention or comment on. There is an elephant in the room, but no one is willing to acknowledge that it is there.
Consider these all too common experiences from Dr. Haugh's research.
- A woman who had a miscarriage said, "People acted as though nothing happened. They never mentioned it.”
- A husband and father lost his job when the plant he worked at closed. He shared how hurtful it was when people "did not even acknowledge my situation."
- A woman whose daughter attempted suicide told how her pain felt as if it was painted on her chest, but people seemed to be oblivious and never said a word.
A simple and profound act of care that you can offer a hurting person is to name the elephant. It's not about "naming the mouse" or “naming the pet dog." It's about naming a big, huge, glaring and obvious situation or event. Don't ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Be sensitive and name the elephant.
The hurting person might name the elephant before you do. If that happens be ready to support them and acknowledge the naming. Listen. Let them know you are willing to talk about their pain. When people refer to the situation causing their pain, they are indicating they want their pain acknowledged. When you pick that up, you will be the kind of person around whom people will feel comfortable naming their elephants.
According to Dr. Haugk's research, grieving people commonly want others to remember their loved one. One man said, "To mention my wife's name after she died was so hard for some people. It was almost as if she had never existed. I guess they thought talking about her would be too painful for me, but I wanted them to remember her." Simply mentioning the name of a deceased loved one acknowledges that the person is not forgotten and that his or her life continues to be significant.
Seize the natural opportunities to reminisce with hurting people. The key word here is natural. Share whatever comes to mind like good memories, funny stories or character traits that you remember, like these.
- One man appreciated that his father's pastor told him about how much his father meant to him and how proud he was of his son. This was a real gift to this man because his dad did not communicate so personally with his son.
- One woman told how many people shared their memories with her after her mom's death. The funny stories and good times they shared hurt her a little bit, but she cherishes the laughs and tears they had together with the memories that they had in common of her mom.
Reminiscing means sharing your own memories, but it also includes some listening. After you reminisce, you might find the hurting person begins to reminisce too. Then, it's better to listen, even if you have more to share. You can always reminisce more later.
Look for more "sure winners" next time.