I am writing this article from my family’s summer house in Sweden. I have spent time here while grieving my mother's passing nine months ago. I write this article to point out the one thing I shouldn’t be surprised about, and yet I am - basically, no one knows what to say to people that grieve.
I have been showered with platitudes, such as: It will get better soon; Stay strong; Your mother wouldn't want to see you like this and the likes.
The last one is surprisingly harsh because you can’t help but feel sadness in such a broken time of your life.
The majority of people I talked too seemed so uncomfortable that I thought they were going to slip out of their skin. They offered hollow words of condolences and then walked away. Why is this? Well there is an apparent lack of emotional intelligence - empathy. We devote all our time towards getting a better job, or ways to invest our money, growing our companies, rushing to the gym and for transport, worrying about our looks, searching for "the one” or hunting for material possessions that we don’t even consider an investment in the most important area of them all: our emotional intelligence.
This is despite the act of identifying feelings and emotions in oneself and others resulting in a higher empathic understanding of our private and professional life. In 2015, I created a project called Sustainable Personality. Here I raised three topics that I saw were missing in our everyday life: gender equality, collaboration (instead of competition) and emotional intelligence. If these topics were taught in schools, it would prepare coming generations for a more efficient and humane way of life - as the research I found showed.
Expressing our feelings and emotions is seen as a weakness and has been for a long time in most of our societies. It is an absolute stigma for the traditional male gender role to show vulnerability, I know, because I show it a lot. By not exploring our emotional spectrum we create a distance from ourselves, which leads to being less in touch with our feelings and emotions. Our emotions are powerful and if we are not aware of what we feel and why, then the result can show in less desirable aftershocks like feeling confused, lost, insecure or misunderstood, which in turn lead to less efficiency/productivity as well as poor mental health.
The lack of emotional intelligence (empathy) from others became frustrating to say the least. After a while I only spoke about the difficult time and grieving with three people that could actually offer some insight and understanding. One of the three I kept in touch with said:
“Don’t look for understanding in others, they weren’t there and don't know what you went through and therefore can’t offer any compassion and understanding to match the intense level you were and are still on. You will only multiply your frustration. Look for comfort and forgiveness within yourself, focus on you."
So I start observing myself through an emotional intelligent exercise; I ask why I feel this way; I look at how I react and the results that my reaction brings; I become aware of survivor's guilt, whereby I feel that if I move on, I am leaving my mother behind.
This method creates awareness of survivor's guilt. Suddenly the emotions aren’t as bewildering because I can now see them. I believe that these emotional intelligent practices should be the first and last thing we teach children every day in schools, and that we should teach them in our homes and workspaces too. Such teaching goes hand in hand with being gender equal, environmentally conscious, collaborative practices (instead of eliminating competitive practices), meditation, mindfulness and yoga. I have to include myself among those not able to offer the right words to say in times of grieving. Few years ago my friend’s father died in a car crash. I reminded myself to try to be empathic and try to listen and let her vent without interruption, but I felt not always able to do that, not able to relate. I found myself speaking in a logical tone with suggestions of what to do next, as if it was something to get over and move on.
Now I understand grieving from a whole other perspective: listening without interruption or suggestions, and letting the person in grief vent.
My empathic abilities are more attuned, I can walk into the feeling, stay there for a while and then leave. As I finish this article and look out of the window from the summer house, I remember what a friend of mine said when I sent videos and photos of the area:
“It looks so lovely. A much needed break for you. The house is so lovely situated between the forest and sea. But I don't think I would manage to be there for more than a couple of days to a week. The loneliness would eat me up.''
“Being alone in the summer house doesn’t mean I'm lonely... lonely is what I felt when the majority of the people around me didn’t know what to say, didn’t understand or didn’t even show consideration for the time of grieving. Now that was lonely.”
Robert Ashton FRSA recently organised a discussion in Norwich to open up lines of communication about the growing problem of mental health.