A Brief Commentary On Grieving
This is a brief commentary on grieving. You might find it helpful.
It was the second week of January of this year, a few days after my mom died, and I heard a knock at my bedroom door. It was my roommate Chris. He asked, “you do know we (he and my other roommate Brett) can hear you crying, don’t you?” I replied, “I didn’t know that, but this is good to know”. He said, “it’s not a problem, I just figured you didn’t know, and it’s totally okay”.
Chris continued, “I don’t know how to make you feel better. So last night I asked around at work and asked them what I can do for you and just about everybody said ‘nothing’ and I didn’t like that answer, it’s shitty, so I went to Target this morning and bought you two puppy calendars, one for your desk at work and one for your wall”. I accepted them and smiled for the first time in days. “Thank you”, I whispered. And he closed the door behind him.
This is what to do when you are a friend or family member of someone who is grieving. Admit you don’t know what to do – and then do something, if you can. If you are local, buy groceries (if you know what they like) or something small you think they might like (at least under normal circumstance), then call or text and ask if you can drop it/them by. If the grieving person wants to be alone, you will be thanked, and you shouldn’t ask to stay. If you are invited in, the grieving person is looking for company. Stay with them to listen to them, to watch TV, to look at photographs – to do whatever they choose to do.
A few tips on what not to do. Do not bring food over that requires the grieving person to return a dish. Do not buy an elaborate gift that requires they write a thank you card. Do not tell them you understand what they are going through. Don’t tell a story about how you lost someone – focus only on the grieving person and do not tell stories about you. And do not say anything that is meant to make them feel better – such as, “he is in a better place”, “he was too good for this world”, “it was God’s plan”, “he’s singing with the angels now” – say none of these things, ever. As a friend or family member, it is your responsibility to be there (if they want you there) for the grieving, not to make them feel better. Anyone who has ever grieved a close family member or friend knows there are no words. So, please, don’t say them.
If you are not local, you only need to reach out. A phone call is fine, but the grieving person may not answer their phone. Please understand if they don’t and don’t call a second time – but do leave a voice message. In these situations, an email or a text is absolutely fine. Then, the grieving person doesn’t need to respond right away if they don’t feel like they can. They will get your message and will appreciate it. Keep the message brief. Something along the lines of, “I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. If you need anything, absolutely anything, I am here. I love you. Please know you are in my thoughts” works really well. Of course, you’ll want to use wording that works best for you, but don’t talk about yourself, don’t mention how you can relate, and don’t give platitudes. Keep it simple. They will return your message when they are ready.
I absolutely love my puppy calendars. Chris’ gifts meant (and mean) the world to me. He didn’t know what to do (and was upset about it), but he did something. And he did the right something.
A close friend of mine lost her husband months before my mom passed. I didn’t know what to say and was afraid of saying the wrong thing, so I said nothing at all. Looking back, I wish someone had given me the advice I list above. Silence was not the message I wanted to send, but it’s the message I sent. I regret this and wish I could do this over. When Chris died on the last day in January, this friend was the first to reach out to me to let me know she was there for me at any time – and I will always love her for it.
Another friend called me and said he’d call me every day for as long as it took – just to make sure I was okay. Then he didn’t call again. Don’t say you’ll do something you won’t do (even by accident). [With respect to this friend, he was also grieving, so I don't blame him for not calling]. Do what Chris did or do what my friend in the previous paragraph did – just offer to be there, do something if you can, and do very little (or nothing) else.
At work, every (business) day I turn the desk calendar to see a picture of a new (to me) puppy. This act is a daily reminder of how good a person Chris was – he cared enough to go out on a limb and do something for a grieving friend.
Be that friend.