I am no expert in grief. I can only share my own perspective. I can only tell my own story. I do know that the society that we live in does not like to talk about death. They avoid it at all cost. It makes us very uncomfortable. Maybe because by acknowledging death we have to face our own mortality. Nobody wants to think about dying. It just isn’t something we want to face, not even when we have to.
Over the last year and a half I have had people who I believed were my friends just disappear. Yes, they were losing a friend but in the process they lost two friends. They turned their back not only on the person that was dying but also on those left behind. It is heartbreaking. It is frustrating. It is something many of us face when we are dancing with death. Those that we love and those that we thought loved us just can’t handle what they know the final outcome is. Oh sure they will show up for the funeral but after that they disappear. They disappear because they can’t face the pain. They don’t want to see you cry. They don’t want to see you hurt so it is easier to just disappear. At least for a while.
The problem is that when you are alone, in that dark place, aching and feeling like your world is falling apart because you are the survivor, this is when you need people the most. This is when you need to know that someone, anyone, who has said that they will be there for you, is actually there. When they aren’t the world goes upside down because now you have not only lost your loved one but you have also lost the people that you thought you could depend on.
Everyone handles grief differently. Some want to be alone, at least at first, I did, but even those who want to be alone in their grief still need to know that there is someone there if they need them. When they choose to reach out and that person won’t respond, whether it is through text or phone it is heart wrenching. It brings the grief rushing back all over again. You see, you can’t take it back 6 months down the line. The damage is done. The friendship is never going to be the same, all because someone couldn’t handle your pain. It is sad but true. No excuse will work. That trust has been broken.
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer I tried to contact a woman that was suppose to be one of my best friends. I asked her if we could talk, if I could call her. I needed someone to talk to, to cry with. She said I am busy but I will call you tomorrow. Tomorrow never came. She didn’t call and I didn’t give her the news. She eventually found out and then said that if I needed anything to let her know. Yet, every time I tried to contact her she was unavailable. Then my husband died. She came to his small memorial. Told me how much she loved me and that if I needed anything she was there. I have this tendency to give everyone I care about chance after chance after chance to hurt me just one more time. I tried reaching out a few weeks later and once again, nothing. A few weeks later I get a text telling me how sorry she was that she hadn’t been there for me but her life was crazy. It is ok. But really it isn’t ok. I just don’t consider her my friend anymore. I lost her because no matter how many excuses she can give me she chose not to be there. Life goes on but the pain still lingers.
We don’t think about the things we say to people when someone they love dies. I believe we are trying to find a way to cheer the person up. I believe we are so uncomfortable with death that we don’t know what to say to them. I can tell you that the very best thing to say to someone is “I am sorry for your loss.” Do not make promises you can’t or won’t keep, that only makes you feel good in the moment you are saying it. If you can’t offer help and follow through then don’t offer the help because when someone says, “if you need me I am here” and then they reach out for you and you aren’t it is devastating to that person.
One thing that people forget is that not everyone has the same religious beliefs as them. When my daughter died I was told that I just needed to accept the fact that it was God’s will. That God wanted her more than I did. I am sorry but these are not the words to say to a grieving mother. In that moment, nobody wanted my only daughter more than I did. A God that decided that he wanted my daughter so I just needed to get over it is not a God I want to know. That simple statement literally changed my whole life. I was angry for a very long time and quite honestly I was angry at God for taking my child. I didn’t give a damn if she was going to be “a beautiful rose in his garden.” I wanted to hold her, love her, watch her grow into the beautiful woman I know she would have been. It was not comforting. So when you are offering your religious beliefs to comfort another, just don’t. It causes more pain than you can possibly know. Just say “I am sorry for your loss.” That is good enough!
Another thing that people do, because they don’t want to see you in pain, they don’t want to see you cry, they just don’t want to deal with it, is to offer advice. I actually had a woman tell me, two weeks after my husband died, that I needed to get out and find love again and then I would get over it. My first thought was she obviously didn’t know us very well because anyone who knew us would know that this would NEVER happen. I had a beautiful relationship with my husband and even now there is pain. I imagine that there will always be pain. Have I healed? Yes, I believe I have but that does not take away the loss of what could have or should have been. It just means that I have accepted that he is gone and I am ready to move on in my life. I guarantee you though that 2 weeks after his death this was not the case. It was a thoughtless thing to say. I understand that it was her way of trying to “help” but it was help that I didn’t need in that moment. What I needed was for someone to understand the pain I was feeling, and since she had lost her husband I thought she would. Apparently not.
I have watched so many people deal with the loss of their loved ones. It is a very painful process. It makes you realize how precious and short life is. This pain is something that you carry forever. You will always miss the person who has left you. It makes no difference if it is your Father, Mother, Husband, Wife, Daughter, Son, any family member that you loved or a friend. Their loss is felt throughout time until your last breath. You heal. You learn to live without them. You know that life goes on. It is something you face daily. Some days are easier than others. You face the anniversaries of their death every year. You feel them. You know that love is still there but with time the pain begins to shift and it is no longer all engulfing. You see your life without them and you find yourself ready to keep moving forward. To love again, to hope again.
My point in writing this is not for sympathy. I am fine. I have dealt with grief so many times over the last 5 years that I have made friends with it. I can feel it, acknowledge it and continue on. Dancing with death has been something I seem to do regularly and part of death is grief. I am not a super human I still feel every loss but I also know that no matter how hard I try I can’t run away from it. Instead I choose to hold it’s hand and face it. Listen to what it has to say and then continue living, until I don’t.
My point is that before you go to comfort someone who has just had a great loss in their life, please think before speaking. If you can’t offer yourself and mean it then don’t offer yourself. If you can’t handle the emotions the person is displaying then excuse yourself. Never ever tell someone to just get over it, Please! If you have no other words, then just say I am sorry for your loss. Those 6 words acknowledge that you know they have lost. They make a huge and significant difference to the person hearing them. If you feel the need to do something then hold their hand, hug them, tell them you love them but please be mindful of promises that are going to hurt when they are not fulfilled.
Be mindful of empty platitudes that will only cause a deeper hurt because when heard it makes them feel as though you don’t understand and you don’t care. Please be mindful. Grief is a funny thing, it comes in waves and it lasts for a long time, whether you are comfortable with it or not. It is a part of many people’s lives and although it is uncomfortable for you it is more painful for the person living it. Offer love, offer comfort, offer your condolences but please keep your advice to yourself unless you are asked for advice.
Life is all about dancing with death, it is a dance we all dance daily, whether we want to face it or not. Someday it will be your grief you face and you will be thankful when you realize that “I am sorry for your loss” was enough.
In Her Service,