“I don’t know what to say…I don’t want to intrude…What if I upset them…” Yes, it is often hard to know what to do or say when someone you know is grieving. Even if you’ve experienced grief yourself. I know this to be absolutely true because while I’m still in the midst of processing the unexpected loss of my mother two years ago, I can’t help but believe that my pain will bring purpose not only to my life but to the lives of others.
I had no idea how I would make it after July 25th 2013. But thanks to grace, mercy, the love of God and the love of so many of you here on earth…I am still here.
And for that I am so grateful.
In fact words like “grateful” and the “little things” are the tightropes that I balance my life on since that devastating day. Simply put – when you lose someone, especially without notice, your whole world has no other option but to shift. Yes, often times it does so in fearful directions. Depression dotted with constant anxiety or worry to be exact. But in the midst of it all there are times of reassuring peace that reminds you that nothing is promised. The present is the greatest present so to be able to drop into life with this power is one of the many gifts of grief.
Therefore in honor of the “little things” that have sustained me, on today, the second anniversary of my mother’s home going, I wanted to share how little things can make a big difference in the lives of the mourning. So whether you are experiencing the challenges of loss or know someone who is, my hope is that these tips will help you through.
Don’t try and understand their pain.
Because you truly have no idea. So to say you “understand” can be more harmful than helpful. Instead, accept and acknowledge all the many feelings your grieving friend is experiencing. The roller coaster of emotions they are enduring is real so don’t be shocked when they go from angry to sad and back to angry again. The key is to not be judgmental. In fact listening in silence is more powerful than offering any form of advice at all. However when you do feel like saying something, yet don’t know what to say, a simple touch or hug can be more meaningful than any words ever could.
Don’t be forceful with your concern.
The unpredictable nature of grief is unavoidable. Some days I may be comfortable talking about things, some days I won’t. How will you know? I’ll tell you. So trust me on this – you can’t track the grief of another so the best approach is to approach each and every interaction anew. You also can’t force them to talk. Even though it may be the day their loved one passed, or their birthday, etc. point blank, don’t assume they want to talk. Many people have been there for me on these significant days, however those who only check in on these days versus those who are consistently there leave two very different impressions. The key is to be consistent in your presence. I cannot tell you how powerful moments of others taking initiative has been these last two years. Expecting someone that doesn’t even feel like getting out of bed most days to tell you “what they need” is a stretch in the world of the mourning. However that unexpected girls night out or standing weekly phone date means so much.
Don’t judge the way they grieve.
I can write a whole book on this one, however to keep it simple – like a fingerprint, the way each of us deal with grief is personal. You may not understand it (scroll up) and guess what? They don’t either. I have no idea why I do the things I do now. However day by day I accept these things as the “me” I am today. This one step at a time approach has not only been helpful in my grieving process but in my overall experiences with others. When you see how complex your own existence can be then you are able to be more forgiving of the complexities you see in others.
Don’t minimize their loss.
Under the category of not knowing what to say falls saying the wrong thing (thinking it’s right). This is tough to write because many have said these things honestly and truly out of the goodness of their hearts. “They don’t mean to hurt you…” is something I’ve had to constantly remind myself of. However as time goes on I’ve found the courage to say in these moments – “What you’re saying right now doesn’t help.” Minimizing one’s loss can cause them to lose trust and faith in you as a solid support system, so since I know your intentions are pure, may this list help you avoid that awkward moment between you and your grieving loved one:
1) You say, ”I know how you feel.”
They think, “No you don’t.”
2) You say, “At least you were grown and not a child when your mother passed.”
They (I) think, “There is no good time to lose someone.”
3) You say, ”It’s part of God’s plan.”
They think, “I know God too, nice to know you know His plan better than me.”
4) You say, ”Look at all the memories you have to be thankful for.”
They think, “Being grateful has nothing to do with the pain I feel today.”
5) You say, “It won’t always be like this.”
They think, “Again, what do you know about my feelings?”
Don’t remind them of who they used to be.
The crazy thing about grief is that it changes you. For good. You nor your life will ever be the same after a loved one passes on. So if someone you know is grieving and they’ve consequently become unrecognizable to you, then at the very least, try and imagine how they feel about themselves. Several days have passed since my mother has and the hardest days are the days when I look at myself and think, “what have I become…,” Who I was before July 25th 2013 and who I am today are night and day. Neither is better or worse than the other, they’re just different. Therefore accepting the “new normal” has become my focus. We can’t go backwards in life so there’s no point in dwelling on what was as a template for what’s to come.
Don’t let go.
In closing, this truth is the one that has truly sustained me. I remember right when my mother passed phone calls, cards and good deeds were plentiful. Combine this with the first several months of being both numb and in shock and you’ll understand why grief completely knocked me off my feet once I was left alone. This is normal. Many warned me of this moment yet still I wasn’t ready for the painful loneliness that accompanies mourning. But there were and are a few who have never let me go. Their consistence is incredible and for this I am forever grateful. They don’t make assumptions based on appearance or worse – social media, and they understand that I may never fully heal. Being there for your grieving loved one for the long haul requires agreement with the latter. Sucks to say, but this is the truth: the pain will lessen in intensity over time, but the sadness may never go away. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, past and future milestones all have the power to reawaken grief. But if you are there for them through it all, it makes what seems impossible both bearable and at times enjoyable.
I hope this helps. Remember, our struggles may happen to us, but they aren’t only for us. Be encouraged and live in your truth. Even if it’s painful it has the possibility to be powerful – living proof.