We are experiencing a collective, complicated grief: over loss of lives, communities, and futures. It’s devastating. And part of the grief is that even with so much at stake, we’re not all on the same page. We are emotionally, physically, and culturally disconnected.
It can feel safer to keep our emotional turmoil hidden—from others, and even from ourselves. Like a child who holds a hand in front of their face and thinks they are invisible, we tell our friends and family, “I’m fine.”
We are not fine. And when we don’t talk about our feelings—worries, fears, sadness, despair—it is as if we are mourning in secret. The physical act of hiding it exhausts us, leaving our chests tight, our nerves frayed, and our brains out of order.
These symptoms of unexpressed grief are signals that we need to emotionally connect with those we love.
Family Nurture Care helps families emotionally connect in difficult times, using seven connecting activities. In today’s blog, the activity we’ll focus on is talking.
If you have lost somebody, I am so deeply sorry. If you haven’t lost someone, there is probably someone you fear losing, and we now know that the body can experience grief and anticipatory grief in much the same way.
We must share these feelings in order to find and give comfort. Emotional connection bolsters our resilience to go on.
It’s one thing to know that talking about our feelings is useful, but it’s another thing to put it into action. Where do we begin?
Each of us has someone we care about, with whom we never expressed our deep feelings or resolved deep pain. When we feel grief (either anticipatory or present), we relive these past losses, and it makes us regret things left unsaid. In my clinical experience, I have observed that when you care about someone, it is helpful to tell them what they mean to you before it’s too late.
So whenever possible, take the chance now. Tell each other how you feel, or how you would feel if you lost them. Apologize for and patch up rifts. You can also open up about your hopes and dreams, and how they are being affected.
Today’s tip: Tell a loved one how you feel
- Make a list of everyone who’s important to you, from every walk of your life: friends, family members, colleagues, and mentors.
- Set a date to talk to an important person in your life in person or via video chat, or let it happen spontaneously. The time should be free of distractions (no phones, no multitasking).
- Start by expressing what that person means to you.
- When you are done expressing yourself, sit quietly for a few minutes and give the other person a chance to express their feelings and worries.
- Ask questions until each person feels they have said what they meant to say, and feels understood.
- For the losses you’re suffering, talk to someone. Share what was good and meaningful about the connection you lost, and open up about your grief.
- Children may need extra help exploring and expressing their thoughts and feelings. If you have children, set 20 minutes aside each day to talk to them. Telling stories is a great way to connect with children about their fear. Or, tell them something important, and ask them what is important to them and why.
Opening up about feelings can be scary, and it can take time. Acknowledge how vulnerable it makes you feel to open up. But it’s worth it. Talking, really talking, and listening, can bring you closer together and help you go on.
Let’s take care of each other,
Martha G. Welch, MD, DFAPA
Director, Columbia Nurture Science Program