Tenets for Companioning the Bereaved

These suggestions for supporting suicide loss survivors was taken from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s “Companioning the Bereaved”

Tenet One:

  • Companioning is about being present to another persons pain; it is not about taking the pain away.
    People who are perceived as “doing well” with their grief are considered “strong” and “under control.” Society erroneously implies that if a grieving person openly expresses feelings of pain and suffering, they are immature or not doing well.
  • If we rush in to take away a person’s grief pain, we also take away the opportunity for them to integrate the loss into their life.
  • In providing a soulful response to another person’s pain, we must discover and nurture two qualities within us: humility and “unknowing.”

Tenet Two:

  • Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  • Going into the wilderness of the soul with another human being is anchored in walking with them through spiritual distress without thinking we have to get them to attain “resolution” or “recovery.”

Tenet Three/Four:

  • Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect. It is about about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  • “Wear your learning like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out, and strike it, merely to show that you have one” – Lord Chesterfield

Tenet Five:

  • Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  • If you can hear another person’s words of pain and loss with an open heart, then you can bring a fully alive human presence to the mourner’s experience. Active empathy will naturally create a safe environment that encourages healing.
  • Compassion embraces our common humanity, our feelings of togetherness, our experiences of kinship.

Tenet Six:

  • Companioning is about walking alongside; it is not about leading or being led.
  • Ask yourself, “How can I provide a safe environment where a mourner feels free to authentically express grief without fear of judgment, isolation or abandonment?”
  • Walking alongside means respect, a non-possessive caring and affirmation of the mourner as a separate person capable of healing from the inside out.
  • Serving the bereaved takes a great deal of patience. Being patient is a means of building trust and enhances the mourner’s awareness that you are there to learn from their unique experience.

Tenet Seven/Eight:

  • Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words. It is about being still; not about frantic movement.
  • As you sit with silence, you acknowledge that you value the need to suspend, slow down, and turn inward as part of the grief journey.
  • While “staying busy” is sometimes appropriate, there is more of a need for stillness. A lack of stillness hastens confusion and disorientation and results in a waning of the spirit. If the mourner does not rest in stillness, they cannot and will not find their way out of the wilderness of grief.

Tenet Nine:

  • Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing logic or order.
  • Change of any kind starts with disorder and confusion.
  • The challenge for the companion is to stay present to the disorientation, trusting the natural unfolding process will eventually result in re-orientation.

Tenets Ten/Eleven:

  • Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them. It is about compassionate curiousity; it is not about expertise.
  • Actively encourage the mourner to teach you about their grief while you remain patient, humble and caring.