Grieving is hard. It is good to have some friends to
help. Extroverts are people who are neurologically wired to aggregate energy
through human social contact. They then spend that energy on tasks that require
focus and solitary work. Some parts of grieving are solitary. No one can do it
for you, and because your loss is as unique as the relationship you had with
your loved one, no one can truly be with you in your personal pain. But
extroverts need accompaniment. They need a steady stream of energy producing
contact. And some of what they need is counter to our expectations.
Here are some suggestions and tips for helping your
extroverted friend or family member grieve. Remember, the default instruction
is always ASK them what you can do to help, and then do that thing.
will want to see and be seen sooner than some people expect. Open the house or
the church up, and make a gathering place. Bring food.
will want to tell their stories of their loved one. They will not get tired of
this. Listening is the greatest gift you can give them.
want you to share your memories. They will not get tired of this.
desire feedback. They want active listening. Your silent presence is not
enough, although it helps. They need you to interact with them around their
will appreciate the public rituals of grief. They may take on roles that others
consider heroic, or even unseemly. They need to be actively involved.
the extrovert is despondent, do not leave them alone. Work with others to keep
them accompanied. This will require teamwork.
will appreciate it if people are willing to carry their story with them. The
shared experience is what makes it seem real to them.
them if they want a care committee or grief support group to meet with them.
Let them set the time schedule. Do not put too many introverts on this
committee. Have a plan for switching people in and out as needed. The griever
will often need it to last longer than people can commit to.
the weeks and months go by, continue to call and email and visit your friend.
They understand that the world must go on, but they will FEEL abandoned, when
everyone else seems to have moved on.
social media. Where the introvert will use it as a buffer, the extrovert will
use it as a lifeline. Share pictures. Memories. Whatever you have.
you are a pray-er – call them up and pray with them on the phone.
the months go by, have play dates. Fun times of re-engagement. It is ok for
people who are grieving to have fun. They will use the energy they gain from
this to do their hard work of personal grieving.
therapy may be better for the extrovert than one on one counseling, although
they will like that too.
AA, hobby groups, all groups will be safe places for the extroverted griever.
may need to be reminded to rest and do self-care.
the extrovert has an introverted – focused and solitary - job, they may have severely decreased productivity.
may seem to be doing better than their introverted counter-parts – because our
culture applauds the social and the busy. But know that they are hurting just
as much and for just as long.
“Whatever you would want done to you, do so unto others” –
Jesus, according to Matthew
OK, I could go out on a heretical limb here and say that
Jesus was wrong, but I am more comfortable blaming Matthew, or whoever wrote
down Matthew’s recollection. In either case, I think this rule is more gold
plate than golden.
Because here is a true thing. Other people aren’t just like you - sometimes
they want different things than you do. What I think we ought to do is find out what they
want, and try and help them with that if we can.
Grief is very individual; no one can grieve for you. Ultimately, we all grieve
solo. Culturally, it is also very corporate.
Our rituals and our training tell us to huddle when we are hurt. This is
a paradox, and it is likely that one side of it or the other is hard for you.
There is a neurological reality that expresses itself as a
personality trait. It is the spectrum of introversion to extroversion. Extremely simplified, it can be defined
recharge their emotional batteries in the presence of others. They then spend
that energy on activities that require focus and involve individual concentration.
recharge their emotional batteries during solitude. They then spend that energy
on activities that involve others.
About two thirds of Americans are on the extrovert end of
the scale. In churches that percentage will be higher, because many introverts
will not be drawn to larger communities. Extroverted church members who are
trying to follow the golden rule have a hard time ministering the grieving
So I am going to lay out some general guidelines, the
application will need to be individualized. These suggestions apply to the care
of a HEALTHY introvert.
Isolation is not bad for introverts unless they
are suicidal. Introverts call isolation solitude – as in Fortress of Solitude –
they need to go there – a lot. That is where they heal.
A grieving introvert will have depleted
emotional batteries. The public rituals of grieving drain them even more. They
need outs, and limits. This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate the rituals
– they do.
They want to hear from you. But write – don’t
call. Don’t be afraid of saying something stupid – they understand better than
anyone how hard it is to find words.
Don’t expect a response - at all. Extroverts like and
need feedback, your gift during this time is to forgo your need for a
response. Their silence does not mean that you did anything wrong.
Don’t just show up, because that is what you
would want people to do. Ask if they want a visit; be willing to be take “no
thank you” gracefully and not personally.
If they want to see you, make an appointment, with a start and end time,
and leave at that time. Keep it brief.
It is good to send food, use the internet to set
this up. Bringing food does not give you permission to stay and talk.
- They probably don’t want hugs except from their
true intimates. If they have not been a hugger before, they aren’t likely to
become one now. If they surprise you and
initiate a hug – then ok.
They will not have the capacity to fulfill many
or most of their previous efforts to care for anyone else. They have lost the capacity. There is no money
in that bank. They feel bad about this, but they will just need to bail. If the
introvert has been performing an extroverted job, they may not come back for a
while, or at all.
They will probably avoid church for a while, and
when they do come back, they may want to come in late, sit in the back, and
leave early. This doesn’t mean that they have lost their faith.
They will seek out help in one on one situations like
a therapist or spiritual director. They will not likely benefit from a support
They probably have a good friend (or even two) to
lean on. If you are that person, you will know it. If you aren’t, you probably
don’t know who they are. If the
introvert just lost their only, or best, friend, they are indeed in a hard
place. But they will want to decide who they are going to move up the roster
into that position. It may take a while.
A healthy introvert can ask for what they need,
or the person nearest them can ask for them.
If they designate a spokesperson, that is a good
sign. Talk to that person about what is needed.
Take these suggestion and extrapolate. Identify the other introverts in your group
and let them lead your care of this individual. Love them, and pray for them, and
give them space and time. They will revive.
It is what humans – all kinds of humans – do.
With love and respectful concern for my friend Mike.