I didn’t write this post.
The people who offered their wisdom on my Facebook page did when I asked what they appreciated the most from people during their grief.
I say “during their grief” like it is something that ends. My former boss who suddenly lost her father last year told me soon afterwards that she felt she was walking around with a huge anchor trailing behind her. When I inquired how she was doing in recent days, she said that the sadness never really goes away. The ability to talk about her father without crying as much is the only thing that has really changed. She misses him as much today as she did yesterday, maybe even more.
For those of us on the other side of the intense pain, we feel at a loss for how to help. We may say or do the wrong things without meaning to do that. We mean well. We really do.
That is why I feel so grateful for those that shared their experiences yesterday. I felt I had no other option but to share a bit of what they said here. It goes without saying that people grieve differently and have different needs.
These are just a few ideas of ways to help a person in their grief:
#1 It helps when people fulfill practical needs. Many said they appreciated the food brought to them in the days following the death of a loved one. One person said it was helpful when someone brought over a lot of paper goods- toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Childcare is also a big need that people really appreciate being met, as well as doing dishes, taking care of the yard, folding clothes and the list goes on and on and on and on.
#2 It helps when people talk about other things besides the loss. I know talking about things going on in my life would feel selfish to me when someone has just lost someone they loved so very much. Some may feel comforted hearing stories of the “normal life” that surrounds them.
#3 It helps when you say “I’m sorry”. Sometimes just having those words said to a grieving person are enough. Many don’t feel comforted by hearing “He’s in a better place”, though we say this many times and no one wants to hear “everything happens for a reason”. When someone was dealing with her house being lost to a fire, she didn’t appreciate hearing “It was just stuff. We’re glad you are okay”. Perhaps this made her feel like her pain was being minimized and her grief over the loss of her home was not being validated.
#4 It helps when you are there for someone long after the funeral. One person said that she felt she needed people mostly 2-3 weeks after she lost her father. She said this was when the sadness really sunk in. Other said they loved being checked on weeks and weeks down the road, months down the road. Even years.
#5 It helps when you just say something. We aren’t perfect and we are going to say things that may not always have the right effect. Being there, however, and showing that you care speaks volumes. Over and over again, I read how much it hurt when people were silent. Not saying anything over fear that you will say the wrong thing may sting the most.
#6 It helps if you check in to see how a person is doing. People want to be heard. People want to be cared about. We may be afraid to ask a person that question for fear of their reaction. What will we do when we hear that they are doing awful? These questions need to be asked. On the flip side, some said they hated being asked how they were doing, because, of course, they were doing horribly.
#7 It helps if you understand that your words sometimes just won’t help. A woman recently tragically lost her daughter in the tornado that hit the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Oklahoma. What words could possibly be adequate? Sometimes there are no words that can help a person who is grieving. Just being beside a person and helping them with their new reality is sometimes the best thing we can do. One person said that she just didn’t want to talk about losing her father at all. It was too hard.
#8 It helps if you listen to the stories about their loved one. I can imagine that I would want to talk about the person I loved so much. I would want you to tell me stories about the person I loved so much. As someone pointed out, this meant more to her than the flowers that went into the trash. These just reminded her of the son that she had lost. One person said that she was lifted up by seeing people at the funeral and hearing the stories they had to share about the lost loved one.
#9 It helps if you send cards. There probably isn’t a person around who doesn’t appreciate getting a card in the mail addressed specifically to them. A card to say that he or she is being thought about and that you are walking beside them.
#10 It helps if you don’t say “I understand how you are feeling”. We never really know how a person is feeling and shouldn’t act as if we do.
#11 It helps when you can sense that a person wants to be alone. It must be hard to gauge what a person deep in grief needs. It may change from moment to moment. We can all appreciate how important it is to be sensitive of when a person wants just to be alone, too. One person said hat she was overwhelmed by all of the people surrounding her during the initial days and weeks. She was really touched by people who remembered her as she dealt with those first holidays, birthdays and other important dates without the one she loved beside her.
#12 It helps when you follow the grieving person’s lead. We want to help so badly sometimes that we can cause more harm. One person had a family that removed her daughter’s items from her room after her daughter had died. They thought they were being helpful taking this task off of her shoulders, but they made things worse. She wanted the opportunity to deal with her daughter’s items in her own way and in her own time.
#13 It helps when you don’t minimize a person’s pain. We would never do that intentionally. However, we sometimes do it when we say things like “Well, you were fortunate to have your loved one for so long” in the case of an elderly person passing away. Like one person pointed out, “When you love someone, there is never enough time. I realize no one lives forever but I still don’t want to believe he is really gone.”
#14 It helps when you don’t make remarks on the way they grieve. Everyone handles pain differently, as we know. I was reminded of this recently when I read accounts of the Hannah Anderson kidnapping in Idaho. Her mother and brother were tortured and killed. Her abductor was shot to death. Someone on a social media site said something to the effect of Hannah handling it well. They were basically making a judgment on her level of sadness and whether or not she was acting appropriately. She responded that that person had no idea if she was crying or not as she typed. One commenter on Facebook said, “One thing I know I hated hearing was…you seem to be taking it really well…or hearing about how one of my siblings seems to be taking it harder. That one really rubbed me the wrong way…and made me feel worse.”
#15 It helps when you don’t compare. A commenter who had a miscarriage appreciated it when people didn’t offer up their horrific stories one after another about their own miscarriages while she was in the midst of dealing with her own. This did not make her feel any better, though the sharers thought they were being helpful.
As I read through the comments and put this list together, I realized how much I have failed so many in my life by not saying the right thing, offering trite phrases without realizing it, not helping out with the practical things like I should and on it goes.
I want to be different.
Maybe you want to be different, too.
The hurting people around us deserve it.
Special thanks to Lisa, Steven, Brooke, Stephanie, Devan, Michelle, Kari, Grechin, Nickie, Jamie, Rynda, Tonya, Margaret, Debbie, Angela (Angela Bickford- Mom of Triplets. Lost One. Survived and Sharing.), Meghan, Angie, Amanda, Jason, Samantha, JD, Jessi (Pink Owl Momma), Melissa, Candace, Tesha, Karen, Alissa (One Part Joy, One Part Circus), Audri, Kelley, Sarah and “Evil Joy” for sharing your experiences, your sadness and your heart with me and with us. My hope is that your words will help us help others.