I try to believe that people mean the best. That when they say something, are really just trying to show their love and support. Sometimes it just comes out so wrong, and it leaves the grieving person feel stunned, shocked, hurt, and lost. I want to talk a little about grief, and loss, and what you can say and do to support the one you love who is grieving.
I used to be frustrated about this, that other people do not know how to deal with grief, but as a someone else said, it’s up to the grieving to educate the people who are not yet grieving. Everyone grieves something, maybe something on a smaller scale, or will face the pain of grief in their future. So the more we can all learn about grief and loss, and how to support one another in time of need, the better off we are. Quite honestly, we are all learning. Someone who is grieving is in new territory with their grief. And those supporting them, are in new territory with learning how to support them.
I keep thinking, how can you even describe how to help? How can you even in a few words talk about how to support your grieving loved one when the subject and feelings of grief are so profound and so deep. But a few things I’ve thought of, and I’m sure there will be more in the future!
1. Grief is personal- don’t start comparing your loss with theirs. I know you want to try connect and show that you understand. But you don’t. Even if you have lost a child, you do not fully understand THEIR grief. It’s personal and different for each one of us. Connecting with other mothers who have lost a child really is a blessing, but we each have our own path still. Please don’t compare your loss of your dog, or your father, or your brother, or your niece, or your ANYONE to someone who has lost a child.
I’m not at all saying your grief is not valid. It is real to you too. But a grieving parent will not feel supported or connected through that most of the time.
2. LISTEN- don’t fix. What has happened has happened. There is no changing what has happened. You or anyone else cannot fix what is done. That’s something so painful for a grieving person to wrestle with. It cannot be changed. It’s painful and brings up many emotions that are foreign. When you try to fix, or say “at least”, you are telling your loved one that they should not be feeling the way they are feeling. When you say things trying to comfort them or make the pain go away, you are not helping, you are only telling them it’s not okay to process and be in whatever emotion they are in. Just listen.
3. Offer tangible ways you can help- We all wonder how we can help. What ways we can help? What would they want? Think of ways that you can offer to help freely(because let’s be honest, when you give help from a unloving heart, but not free place, it can be felt by the griever. And NOBODY wants help from someone who doesn’t want to give it). So offer ways you can help like, “I could babysit for you, I can bring supper this night, or I could just come sit with you. Would any of these be helpful for you?”
Don’t be offended if they don’t want any of them, but just know that you have offered to help, and then it’s up to them to receive the help. Don’t just say, let me know if you need anything. Most like they will not reach out. Because saying that does not mean you truly want to help.
4. Don’t be afraid to do the wrong thing- I know I keep saying things not to do, so it can make you feel nervous to do anything. But honestly, when we don’t do anything because we are too afraid to cause hurt. The reality is, you probably will do the wrong thing at some point. Every grieving person at a different moment in time might be offended by one thing, where another isn’t. When you don’t do or say anything, and just disappear, you are leaving your loved one alone in a time when they need the most support.
Many of us who are grieving say, that you really find out who your true friends are. A lot of people can say some horrible things, without trying to understand, and others can just disappear because they don’t know what to say. Is that what you want for yourself? Imagine yourself in that situation. Your child dies. Everyone leaves you. Would you like that?
So, I do believe that learning about grief, and doing the best you can, is better than doing nothing.
5. Check in often- With grief, everyday is a roller coaster. There are good moments and bad moments. One moment we could be just fine, and the next, not be able to do anything but lay in bed. It’s the nature of grief and the pain of losing a child. It’s nice to have people that check in with you, that let you know that they are thinking of you. When you think of someone, let them know. They do not know that you are thinking of them, and it means a lot to know.
By checking in, you communicate with them their needs. Not in a badgering way where you don’t give them space. But checking in allows you to get a feel how they are doing, and being there when they do need the help.
One last thing I would say, is everyone’s grief is their own. It is not up to you to decide how someone should grieve. If they are not “themselves” remember that they are forever changed, and it’s their choice how they walk their path forward. Remember that someones grief is their own, and you are not helping or supporting when you tell someone to “move on” and “get over your grief already”. Maybe you don’t have the capacity to be the support person, but it’s very unfair to tell someone to move on, when you are not the one walking in their shoes. They have to decide where they go, and you are not going to change that.
To my heartbroken Mama’s. I know educating others on grief is exhausting and frustrating when you are trying to navigate the mucky waters yourself. I felt the same way. If these ways of helping resonate with you, share it with your people, so they can have just that much more knowledge on how they can support you. <3