(This post has been cross-posted from my post yesterday on Cherry Blossoms)
Is it just me, or has this been a really challenging spring? It seems it’s been a season of intense loss. The human experience is a messy one, it runs at an unrelenting pace until the whole world seems to stop at the death of a loved one and then you wonder if your world will ever start to spin again?
When you lose a loved one, it hurts. It doesn’t matter how much you believe in an afterlife or in eternal families. It hurts. When a loved one loses a loved one, it also hurts. The grief can be confusing if you didn’t know the deceased, but the sting of death reaches your empathy. Loss is loss and loss hurts. When the grief is vicarious it’s hard to know what to say or to do.
It’s easy to distance yourself. You don’t want to get in the way, you don’t want to do or say the wrong thing. You don’t know what to say. A couple of years ago when my friends’ baby was stillborn I felt mute. I knew there was nothing I could say or do that would give them back their son, but I wrestled with knowing that I wasn’t doing anything to support them or help them through this very dark time.
Since then I’ve tried really hard to take the advice of those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death so that I can be a better support to others. While every death is different, and everyone deals with the pain differently, here are some simple guidelines that, when used with our discretion, can help you bridge that infinite gap between your pain of empathy and the great loss experienced by your friend.
Don’t say, “You are so strong. I could never do this.” Don’t say, “Don’t be sad, just be grateful.” Don’t second guess the precipitating moments, offer suggestions of how that situation could have been avoided, or, in some circumstances, even ask how it happened. That doesn’t matter. It won’t bring the loved one back, it’ll only bring more pain.
What you CAN say and do:
* “My heart is aching for you.”
* “I miss [lost love one] so much.”
* Share things that touched you about the deceased
* Tell your friend you love her
* Fast and pray for her
* Tell her that your friendship is bigger than any feelings that she may have and you are there to hear it all: the good, the bad and the ugly.
* Cry with her
* Listen to her
* Keep coming around when everyone else goes home and moves on
* Know that it’s ok to admit that you don’t know what to say. Neither does she. There are no words.
Your friend will NEVER stop grieving. How can any of us stop grieving someone we loved so much? Even if you are firm in a belief that your family will be reunited in an afterlife, it’s a long time away, isn’t it? It’s never too late to reach out to someone who has suffered a great loss and let her know that you care for her and support her. Hopefully when it’s your turn, she’ll be there to do that for you, too. Life is messy and full of pain; we need each other to get through. Please call a friend today who may need a pick-me-up. If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of friends who could use it.