I spent the last few days with friends who have gone through the unthinkable last year. Their seven year old daughter fought cancer valiantly, but she passed away last November. They were back in the area for the first time this past weekend, and Sarah and I were able to spend two nights with them. The conversations were deep, raw, and emotional. They reminded me of three things leaders need to do when helping others in their grief.
Show up. For the sake of this blog, I would say that people worth following show up. But, in the case of the above, it is more than that. Genuine love is showing up. Sarah reminds me often that we want to be the type of people that show up. What she means is that people not only notice when you show up, but they also feel your presence when you do. Showing up takes more intentionality than liking an Instagram post. It certainly does not solve everything. Perhaps, it solves nothing at all. But, it physically demonstrates care in an era being defined by distance.
Second, listen more than you talk. Sarah advised me of this before our friends came over Saturday night. It was wise counsel. They are hurting, unimaginably hurting. So, we aimed to listen. We gave them space to vent, to ask questions, and process. We tried not to interrupt, lecture, or counsel. The point here is that people experiencing grief need a sounding board. Wise counsel comes later when they are ready to hear it.
Speak commitment. One of the things I did tell our friends was that we were going to walk through this valley with them for as long as it takes. I said this with words because they needed to audibly hear our commitment to them. Don’t assume it is known. Say it. Commit to it. Make the words felt. They told us that they felt others were rushing their grief. Grief, however, is not a Starbucks order. It cannot be rushed. It takes time. I told them that six decades from now I am willing to sit on the back porch with them, assuming I still can, and mourn. I wanted them to know there was no timetable. Sarah and I are in this for the long haul, however that looks.
To their wise admission, it will look different down the road. But, they will never get over this. Nor, will we. Therefore, we are committed to them, however that commitment looks. I said all these things so they heard it, felt it, and knew where we stood. I repeat this on purpose because some of the biggest regrets in my life stem from not voicing commitment audibly.
Then, when they got up to leave, we hugged and told each other we loved one another.
It was real life.
Nothing left to the imagination.
Let these ideas sink in: show up, listen, and speak commitment. They are not intended to be the exhaustive “how to” list of entering the depths of grief. But, they are a starting point.
As someone leading a business in 2021, here is what I know. While your team hopefully is not dealing with pediatric cancer, they are dealing with some kind of grief. Grief these days is almost unavoidable. Like the morning dew in the summer, it is like a thin layer that is always present when you turn on the news or run into your friend at the store. Or, in the case of my friends, it can be as thick as the clouds present in a category 5 hurricane.
This part of life comes with every person walking into our business. The same goes with yours. So, in the midst of all our important organizational initiatives, let’s take stock of this reality. Let’s be people that show up, listen, and speak commitment.