The horrific murder of 19 children and 2 teachers at Ross Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas last week has found me, like most of us, asking questions—again—that cry out for answers. As those precious families grieve the loss of their beautiful children and the teachers whose calling served them, all of us must ask: Did these innocent human beings die in vain? I know this: we are grieving this unspeakable tragedy in ways I have not witnessed in a long time.
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, especially in ourselves.
Where does that leave us? We who spend our professional lives serving clients, shaping their dreams, and managing their assets and expectations must become adept at recognizing grief’s varied expressions. I would be tempted to call these faces “masks” were it not for the fact that grief cannot be so easily disguised.
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 our lives, being unprepared can be numbing, even destructive.
So, what can we do? First, tell yourself every day that you will likely engage one or more individuals who are experiencing loss. That person may be the individual staring back at you in the mirror! Your blood work came back with some troubling numbers, your relationship with a spouse or partner is in a rocky place, a friend has just died, or a beloved pet no longer pads around the house. Everyone with whom you connect may be in a similar place. Attune your senses to be “grief aware” every day.
Second, give yourself and others permission to grieve. When you are with someone who is unusually withdrawn or responds to the, “How are you today?”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 about it?” And then listen, take in the face, the words, the feelings. Be present with nothing more than basic human empathy and care. Reviews and investments can always wait!
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 a client a bit snippy, recognize that grief may be in play. More times than not unleashed anger that comes out of the proverbial “blue,” stems from a hurting person. Such outbursts, in my experience, often come from an open wound called “loss.”
In the days to come, now may be the best time for you to heighten your awareness of grief in the human experience. As all of us grieve our nation’s brokenness and the deaths of Uvalde’s children, teachers, and now the spouse of one of those teachers, be aware that grief is a tenured resident in every life. Being aware of grief’s reality both in ourselves and in the lives of others will empower you to be a more caring and trusted advisor, colleague, spouse, parent, neighbor, and friend.