Be forewarned this will be a difficult discussion today but I feel necessary and helpful. This past weekend I had the opportunity to hear a discussion of what to say when someone you know experiences a loss of a loved one. I personally have experienced this, from both sides. It’s difficult to know what to say. Everything seems less than adequate. 6 years ago, July 8th, my youngest son who was 17.5 at the time, went home to be with God in heaven. Today’s blog comes from personal experience as well as I am doing a book review that I just read. The book is Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, written after the death of her husband Dave Goldberg.
One thing that I found very disappointing were very close friends didn’t say anything. Other’s said they’d do something then didn’t. Honestly there isn’t anything that anyone could do to take away the pain. However, some suggestions might be to say “I’m here for you… do you want a hug?” Another thing to say at the hospital might be “I’m downstairs for the next hour giving out hugs if you want one”..
All too often we say, “if you need anything just let me know” but that puts the burden of asking onto the grieving party. Just take it upon yourself to do something. Ask if they need something taken to the dry cleaners and then pick it up and return it to them. That’s one more thing they don’t have to do on a very long list of other things they have to do, when they don’t feel like doing anything. Perhaps caring for their pets could be a big relief off their shoulders. I’ve also offered to house sit while they are at the service. This is a time when thieves take advantage when service details give advertised times when everyone will be out of the house.
There is so much power in the word “we”. Telling someone they will get through it is fine but if you say “WE will get through this” is so much more powerful when they don’t need to be alone or isolated. And if they decide to go back to work, many times this is where they need to be, it gives them validation that they are doing a great job, even if they are not. Of course they are distracted, but they still have value to add.
Don’t forget that the days after a loss are sometimes the loneliest. After the extended family goes back home and the bereaved one is left alone, don’t forget a phone call or a visit would be appreciated. Don’t be afraid you are going to “remind” them of their loss. They don’t take a breath that they don’t know of their intense void. We never get to where we have closure, we simply learn to live without that loved one present. We learn to put one foot in front of the other, but we never heal. Many times we are simply wanting an opportunity to talk about the deceased.. again. Allow them the time to remember. Be there with them as they tell the same storied again. It’s therapeutic.
As for those that are grieving, I will offer this personal practice that helped me to breathe when I didn’t think I could. After a while you get past the most immediate grieving but you are just getting by. There will be times when it hits you and you are back to day one. I found that when that hits I tried to have an attitude of gratitude. I tried to be thankful for the time I had with my son. I was thankful for the fact that he died in his sleep which was so peaceful. I was thankful that I didn’t have to worry about what would happen when I was gone. I had to dig sometimes but I was able to find things to be grateful for which helped immensely with my personal healing.
So when someone experiences a loss of a loved one, please remember to say something. There but by the grace of God go I. We can’t imagine ourselves having to go through that and we are paralyzed by the thought of it, but It takes practice. We can be there and know what to do. We can be there for each other in those most intense times. Saying nothing is cruel and saying the wrong thing is really insensitive even if what is said is true, timing is everything. However, being there in a positive, active way is so supportive and you can’t imagine what it will mean to them now and later.