I laugh at myself when I think back to the time when I thought I was prepared for this.
I actually thought I had prepped myself adequately for grief.
And I did.
To the best of my ability, at the time.
I had pretty limited experiences with loss when Chad got sick; and those losses, although terribly sad, did not penetrate my daily life. Those losses did not change me.
Now I have it allllllll figured out…
You know how you prepare best for it?
It’s a little secret I’ll let you in on….
You don’t. You get thrown right into it.
You see how you feel. You adjust yourself to those feelings.
Every day, if needed.
Grief is an enveloping monsoon, an ocean consuming every single second of every minute of every day.
You jump in, in preparation for the flood, you probably prepare a life raft, so to speak. You fashion it with self-help books and blogs, prayers and discussions with your loved one before they pass away. You think you’re ready.
You are never truly ready.
That little life raft will keep you from sinking, but you are going to be tossed here and there and everywhere in a sea of cruel loneliness and sadness.
I can tell you that you will eventually see that the water recedes and you can breathe a little easier.
Just don’t lose sight of that raft. The water will come back to take you out again and you need to know that.
The grieving waters will come back repeatedly.
One of my biggest lessons through this journey is learning to adequately support those who are suffering in the loneliness and isolation that grief creates.
A friend recently asked what was the most appropriate thing to do for someone who was dealing with a fairly new and significant loss in their life.
Sure. People have to eat. But please realize that your friend is probably receiving meals and they can’t keep track of it all. And they might not even be hungry. I know I wasn’t, but I was responsible for feeding two little people – so I welcomed meals. It was one less thing I had to think about.
Absolutely. If you know that your grieving friend needs prescriptions picked up at the pharmacy, children ushered to and from school, dogs walked, the house cleaned, grass cut…then by all means, DO IT FOR THEM. Or arrange for someone to do it for them.
One of my biggest discoveries was that I didn’t know how to accept help. And even more than that, I did not know what I needed. When someone said, “please let me know if you need anything,” I didn’t know what to say. It was too overwhelming to make a list, I felt it was too presumptuous to ask someone to help me with daily tasks I should be able to do myself, too draining to even talk about. I didn’t want to call someone because I was so fragile I would burst into tears and I didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward.
If you KNOW of a need, then just DO it.
Yes! Hold their hand. Talk to them. Cry with them. Share some wine and a meal.
Whatever you would normally do with your friend before grief came, do it.
Especially do it now.
Sit in silence, together. Start a new routine that includes your grieving friend, even if it’s dropping off a fresh cup of Starbucks every morning and leaving.
If your grieving friend is the praying type, then yes. If they are not into that, that’s okay too. They are entitled to their beliefs, just as you are. And you can pray for whoever and whatever you want to. Include them in your prayers. Just remember to support your friend in a way that makes them comfortable.
Please! Tell your friend that you remember certain things about their loved one. If an anniversary is coming up, a birthday, remember it. You have no idea how much it will mean to them if you call them the morning of their husband’s birthday and ask if you can take her to lunch or have a coffee date. She may decline, but she may really appreciate the gesture of celebrating that day in some small way.
There are very few people in my life who remember Chad’s birthday or our wedding anniversary. Even fewer who send me a short text, just to let me know they thought of him on that day. It’s such a small gesture, but it speaks volumes to me. He deserves to be remembered. Your grieving friend will appreciate it, too.
I am not a speaker. I get tongue-tied and my words don’t come out of my mouth nearly as daintily as they do when I write. So, if you’re a talker – then talk. If you’re a writer – then write. Just tell them you are there. Tell them you care. Tell them you miss their loved one too. Tell them you know they are hurting and you want to be whatever they need you to be.
Please don’t speak these words, in any form:
- “It will get better”
In my experience, the pain is less severe. But it never goes away. Ever.
- “Time heals all wounds”
Again, not true. Time allows the pain to feel less fresh, but it will never be the
- “They are in a better place now”
There is no better place my husband can be than HERE with me and our
daughters. Heaven? Yes, it’s a glorious place. But to my grieving heart, to anyone’s
grieving heart, heaven is just too far away.
- “He/she would want you to move on”
Does.Not.Compute. Your grieving friend will “move on” when they are ready,
whatever that means TO THEM. It has nothing to do with you or how you view the
- “It’s been ___ days/months/years, aren’t you over it by now?”
I will never understand how people let this spill from their lips. Do they not think
about someone’s feelings before they speak? Again, this has nothing to do with
you and everything to do with your grieving friend. And this is clearly an
opinion…which are unnecessary and unwelcome during this grief journey.
- that whole “biggest battles given to the strongest soldiers” crap
It’s a good thought, you mean well if you’ve said it. But it cheapens your grieving
friend’s feelings. He/she doesn’t feel strong. And I can assure you he/she doesn’t
feel like a soldier.
- “_____ fought a hard battle…”
I have a hard time with this sentiment. Again, I know people mean well.
But being in a “battle” implies someone is going to win or lose. And if they lose,
it’s because they didn’t fight hard enough. Of course, you would never say, “your
husband didn’t fight hard enough to win the battle” to your grieving friend.
That’s what it will feel like to her.
- ditto for the “everything happens for a reason” mumbo jumbo
I have said this myself. And at times, I earnestly believed it. But being on this side
of it? Nah, I don’t buy that. People die. People are dealt crappy hands in the game
of life. It’s what happens. I don’t believe there is always a “reason” for every
heartache we endure.
It may be hard to understand what someone is going through privately. Even if you have experienced great loss in your own life, it doesn’t mean your friend is experiencing the same thoughts or feelings you did. We are all different and we all handle situations differently.
Your friend is going to do some changing, and that is OKAY. They may do crazy things like jump out of an airplane or go back to college (for example). But guess what? That person is still your friend. She is figuring out who she is without her other half. That part is tricky and was never, in any way, part of the plan she had for herself when she said “I Do.”
Forgive her if she cancels plans you’ve made. Give her a little grace if she lashes out about something totally unexpectedly. Support her. But, please, don’t judge her.
Give it to her! Grief has no timeline. She may do well in a month, a year or two. She may not. It will be a cycle for the rest of her life.
Give her space to breathe – but do NOT leaver he alone.
I can’t tell you how many people flooded me in the beginning of my journey without Chad.
And after the first week or two, they slowly dwindled in number.
Surprisingly, at that precise time, I needed support more than ever.
Life kept spinning around me and I wanted it to stop for my grief. Just for a day.
People avoided me. I know it is awkward and overwhelming to be friends with someone who is going through this; I know.
I also know who my true friends are – the ones who called me and asked me how I was, months after he died. They still, nearly seven years later, remember his birthday. They still remember our wedding anniversary. We may not see each other all the time, but it means so much to me to know they think of Chad on those days and share it with me. It is priceless. And he deserves it.
Speak of the loved one?
Some people feel differently than I do about this – but I firmly believe you should speak of the person who died. They were here on this Earth, they made a difference. Someone misses their presence. Every single day. They were a husband, father, son, brother, friend…they mattered and they deserve to be remembered.
I love to hear funny stories about Chad and I love to tell them. It took me a little while to get to that point, though. And it may take your friend some time, as well. Or it may not; they may just talk about them from the beginning. And it’s okay. It is all okay.
Y’all. This is important stuff.
This is showing grace and mercy and love to people when they need it.
This is being a light in the darkness of grief for someone else.
This is life, real life, that is really hard to maneuver sometimes.
This is showing compassion and living it to help other people.
We are all in this together, regardless of our beliefs, race, gender, age…
We all matter to someone.
Take care of each other.
LOVE each other.
And take care of yourself, too.