To truly understand another’s grief is to allow yourself to bear it all -all vulnerabilities, fears, concerns and worries exposed for everyone to see. Only once you come from a place of commonality can you see the depths of another’s soul from a place of true empathy where healing can begin.
Loosing a loved one is seemly one of the hardest things to go through yet, there are few people who really know what to do to help another during their time of grief. People will do pretty much anything to avoid the topic of death, including the ones closest to you. They may skate over the issue with their comments including anything from, “She’s in a better place” to “Pray for her” to “I’m sorry for your loss,” all of which are very superficial at best. Some will send cards because it’s easier to confront death in that way than to have a conversation with the bereaved; some will forge a little closer to make statements about the deceased including how great of a person he or she was and how she will be missed and some will even dare to share a positive memory of the person too.
As a person who has been on the receiving end of all of this I can say that I do appreciate the thought and sentiment because I know how hard it is for others to deal with death, but I wish that these people would understand just how hard it is for us as the grieving to deal with these comments too. The reason for this is because in the process of receiving these comments I have often had to comfort the person who was making the remarks as opposed to the person giving the remarks comforting me. I say this not to sound angry or judgmental but to give a word of advice to people who are looking to comfort someone who is grieving but just don’t know how. Although there is always a time and place for these types of gestures, I urge people to go a little more beyond the surface. Often going beyond the surface involves actions that may or may not be during the direct time of death of the loved one. It could involve coming over to see the bereaved after the loss with a tray of food and a listening ear or it might mean stopping by a few weeks later to sit with the bereaved to watch tv or to go on a walk. It could also mean sending kind remarks during the times when no one else remembers like on the deceased one’s birthday or anniversary of death to acknowledge your grief and also the person that was lost. These days are often the loneliest and most painful because no one remembers the person who died except the bereaved and even if they do it’s hard enough to acknowledge the bereaved person’s loss one time let alone on other days during the months and years to come.
Losing a parent young as in my case can mean that you go a lifetime of milestones with no one there to cheer for you or give you the support you need and it’s on these days that we as bereaved people crave the most attention I think. One day I plan on going to Physician Assistant school but I dread the day that I graduate because of the moment of realization that there will be no one in the audience clapping or cheering for me.
Call it selfish but I think I share a common need with other people in that we all crave to have encouragement and love around us, especially during these moments of achievement. And sometimes it’s not in moments of achievement; it’s in those important first milestones that we all go through. First mother’s day as a mother after your mother’s death; first Christmas as a parent after the loss of your child; first major job promotion after the loss of your spouse; First concert to your favorite band without your deceased sibling who shared the same taste in music and so on.
So, I guess my point in saying all of this is that the support that we as bereaved crave is no so much in the immediate aftermath of the death of our loved ones but in the large and seemingly small moments in life that we go through without that loved one.
I will never forget that after I found out I was pregnant and my mother had just died it was my first Mother’s Day without my mother. It must have been a little over a month after she passed away from cancer. I spent Mother’s Day alone at my house while my husband went to spend time with his mother. I went to check the mail and there was a card with a rose in the mailbox. The card was from a friend that I was not very close with at all but I had known her since she was a friend of my husbands that he grew up with. The card basically stated that she knew how hard it was for me to go through this first Mother’s Day without my mom but that wished me to have a good day knowing that I would soon to be a mom myself. It was pretty simple yet powerful and I will never forget the gesture because out of all the “close friends” I had and the “close family” and people who were loved my mom, no one acknowledge the pain and difficulty of that day except for her. It was through receiving that card that I felt relief believe it or not, because I knew there was someone out there that wasn’t just going to brush over my pain or forget about my feelings during the difficult times. As lonely as grief can make me feel it was the acknowledgement of what I was going through that made me feel less lonely and therefore more able to bear the day. I encourage others to do the same to help their loved ones through their grief. These small acts of kindness make grief more bearable and make us feel more human during a time when you are feeling a wealth of emotions.