Grief, you bastard. Get out of my life.
When I learned that a friend of mine lost his only brother recently, I found myself at a loss for something to say. How can that be? I lost my only brother 10 years ago. I’ve been there. That’s why, actually. I’ve been there. I know the enormity of the pain.
Losing someone you love is life-altering. It changes you, and everything you believe. It becomes a way of measuring time. There’s the time before they died, and the time after. Every event of your life now falls into one of those categories.
In the face of such loss, its natural to feel a little unsure when approaching someone who is grieving. I wrote this post to give some guidance from someone who has been that friend in need.
If someone you know is dealing with grief, here are a few things you can do:
Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the perfect one. I remember vividly who was there for me when my Danny died. They didn’t know what to say either, but they were there. Those friends have a special place in my heart. They jumped into the abyss with me so I didn’t have to be alone. That brought me so much comfort. Let your friend set the tone. Show up. If they want to cry, let them. If they want to laugh, help them find things to laugh about. If they want to tell stories about their loved one, listen. Share your own. If there’s silence, let it be.
Don’t be afraid to mention their loved ones name. Use it! Often. My favorite thing after my brother died was the sound of his name. My biggest fear was that it would fade away, that people wouldn’t remember him. Tell your favorite stories of the one they lost. If you have pictures, dig them out and send them. Videos? Even better. I remember being hungry for Dans image, the sound of his voice, his laugh. I treasure the photos and videos people sent me.
If you knew their loved one, think about the things they enjoyed. If you know particulars, like their favorite food, or drink, bring that to your friend as a token of remembrance.
When you find yourself thinking about the person who has passed, call or text your friend and tell them. Don’t be afraid you’ll make them sad. They ARE sad. Knowing that someone is out there thinking about the person they lost is incredibly comforting. If they cry, don’t apologize, or feel guilty. It’s natural, and cathartic to cry!
Help with the little things
Please, don’t ask “Is there anything I can do?” . When someone is grieving, they can barely get up and get dressed in the morning , much less think of busy work to make you feel like you’re helping. As the Nike slogan goes, “Just Do It.” Jump in and help. Bring food. Pick up their living room, take out the garbage. Answer their phone for them if they can’t bear it. Help them write thank you notes. Pour them a glass of wine. Start the washer, fold the laundry.
Be a middleman or woman
Offer to be a touchpoint, the person who disseminates information. Your friend is tired of answering the same questions over and over (“What happened?” “Are you okay?” “How can I help?”) . Start a group chat with mutual friends, let them know what’s happening, tell them about the services, rally them when your friend needs support, company, or to get out of the house. Organize the bringing of food (don’t forget wine!).
Send a card
The thing about flowers is: They die. They die, and then they sit in the vase in your house because you can’t bear to throw them away. Cards are evergreen. I still read through the cards I received. Not often, but it’s nice to know they are there. Again, it’s remembering. The best cards are the ones that say something about the person who passed. Even people who said “I didn’t know him well, but I remember his smile.” Or “Although I didn’t know him, I know how much you loved him” were touching.
The most memorable card I got was from family friends who had tragically lost their daughter in childbirth a few years before. In essence, they said that even if they had known before their daughter was born that she would be ripped suddenly from their lives, they still would have jumped at the chance to have the years with her that they did have. That gave me great perspective. It was so true.
The hardest part of losing my brother came a few days after his funeral, when everyone went back to their lives. There is a lot of love and support in the beginning, but the support that is most needed for some people comes days, weeks, or months later. Your friend’s world has shattered, and they need you to recognize that, even after the funeral. Especially after the funeral. I held things together pretty well through Dan’s passing, wake and funeral. I was in shock, numb to the world. When that tidal wave of grief hit, though, it hit hard. It washed over me repeatedly. Some days, it still hits me out of nowhere. Let your friend know that there isn’t a time limit on grief. Tell them, if you mean it, that you are there to talk with, cry with (or cry to) anytime. Keep showing up for them.
Take note of important dates
My brother was born On October 5th. He died on November 6th, 30 short years later. Those two days, and the ones that come in between, are the hardest days of the year for me. My friends know that, and they call, text, or make an effort to spend time with me those days. I love celebrating Dan’s birthday, even though he’s gone. It makes me feel close to him. Set yourself a reminder for those dates in your friend’s life and reach out to them.
The hard truth about grief
Grief is intimidating. It makes people uncomfortable, it makes them feel helpless. The hard truth is, it’s inevitable. When someone you love is grieving, know that you can’t make the pain go away, but you can ease the pain a bit using the ideas above. More than anything else, know that if what you do or say is sincere and comes from love, it will be a comfort.