In 2000 an organization, Children to Children merged with Tu Nidito, bringing bereavement group support to Tu Nidito’s programs. The merger brought a rich history of Children to Children’s beginnings by founder Marianna Cacciatore, as well as an expanded mission for children grieving the death of a loved one and a new home base for Tu Nidito. The need for this was so great that it quickly became one of Tu Nidito’s largest programs. The program now serves over 340 children each year. After founding Children to Children, Marianna moved to San Francisco and served as the Executive Director of a national philanthropic organization, Bread for the Journey. It was there she began to see the connection between grief and generosity. This is the basis for her new writing, The Way of Love, Generosity, and Grief, to be published soon. Read below for an adaptation from her first book, Being There for Someone in Grief, available on her website www.mariannacacciatore.com.
Grief and loss are inevitable. In the span of a lifetime, each of us will be called on to be there for others we love and care about as they grieve, just as one day we will need friends to be there for us. We respond to this call by doing it, by courageously facing the sorrows as well as the joys of this mysterious life where we all take turns loving, grieving, and holding one another through the unavoidable pain of loss.
It took more than fifteen years after the murder of my childhood friend, Susan Brady, for me to gather the courage to face my sorrows, and when I finally did, there were complications the years of denial created. But there came a moment after a long commitment to healing when I knew I wanted her murder, which had felt meaningless, to be meaningful. I dreamt of a place where children in my community of Tucson, who were impacted by death, would know they weren’t alone, a place to grieve as close to the time of the death as possible. It was then I founded a grief support center, Children to Children, now a primary program of Tu Nidito.
Over the years, I’ve sought out simple ways to help ordinary people know what to do and remember how to be when in the company of someone on a grief journey. A simple acronym, SALT—as in the salt of tears—emerged as a teaching tool to help learn by heart four basic premises for support.
See those in grief just as they are.
Allow them to be just as they are.
Listen to them without interruption.
Trust their process.
If you can simply See those in grief without acting on the urge to do something to alter or fix that person right away, it allows them the freedom to uncover their own strength, resilience, and creative responses to life. For one who is grieving, being seen validates and makes real their experience which, for a while, feels surreal. You have taken the first step toward helping them to heal.
Your quiet compassion will Allow them to do what they need to. Each person grieves differently. They may say or do things that are out of character for them. They may need to talk, cry, scream, lay blame, sink into a depression, avoid the truth or all of the above. Allow them this freedom (given they don’t hurt themselves or another). Don’t add your fear or criticism. Acceptance of them in this unpredictable time of sorrow will permeate the membrane of self-acceptance which may be very shaky at this time.
Your best response would be to Listen generously, without interruption, without asking questions or telling your own story or giving advice. Just be there with as much acceptance as you can muster. If they need to talk for a while and they choose to do it with you, listen generously. Let them know you are hearing them through your eye contact, a nod, a sigh. If you must speak, simply say how sorry you are. Then be quiet. Learn to breathe deeply and allow silence to be part your exchange. Give them all the space and time they need to let the deeper words come to the surface and be spoken—and sometimes there are no words. Your presence itself is enough to qualify as generous listening.
And finally, Trust that within them is everything they need to traverse this difficult journey. They do not need your rescue. They need your quiet, steady faith in their resilience. Trust their process, their uniqueness. Give them all the time they need to come back to their center. Your faith in them will make them stronger; it will help them have faith in themselves, even in their darkest hour. And trust your own process as well, and your capacity to remain present through it all.
This is how we show our love. We become their steady boat on rocky waters, allowing them a measure of safety as they fall into grief—a descent they would give their lives to avoid—but which cannot be escaped. It is during our own rocky times that we develop humility, grow compassion and—with our skilled attention—become the kind of tender and strong person who can generously reach out a helping hand and warm heart.
Marianna has developed a 9-month training program which is being held here in Tucson, beginning October 1. The training will be a deep dive into the concepts outlined in The Way of Love, Generosity, and Grief. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to her through her website.