Sometimes life shelters you from the hurt being experienced by others and other times it seems like a flood of grief presents itself. This has been one of those weeks when I know there are so many out there hurting. If you are like me, you want to do something or say something but often do not know what to say.
My grandmother has lost all her children and I spent so many years doing and saying it all wrong. The past few years I’ve learned so much from my friend Michelle who lost her 16 year old daughter in a car accident. Today I thought I would share a few things based on what I’ve learned from her and gathered from other experiences that may help you when you have no words.
What Not to Say
- Comparing the persons loss to a loss you have experienced. We often do this because we want to find some commonality in the discussion but the fact is grief is very specific to the individual. We all process differently.
- Sharing religious advice or scripture. Yes, some scripture can provide comfort over time and turning to God will absolutely provide strength but saying to someone something such as “everything happens for a reason or God has a plan” can really cut a grieving person who could never believe God’s plan would include taking a a child or a young mom from her family.
- Sharing encouraging words such as “time will heal your heart” may seem very kind but ask any mom who has lost a child and I imagine she will tell you every day their heart still hurts in a big way and that will never change.
- My favorite, and one I’m pretty sure I actually have shamefully used, refer to their “new normal”. What was I thinking! For someone who has lost a critical part of their life nothing will ever be “normal” for them again.
- I’m so sorry for your loss; I will be praying for you.
- Follow up in the following months with a phone call or a card. So many people provide their prayers after a tragic event but in the months that pass everyone else goes back to their life while the person continues to grieve alone.
- Share a story about the person who has passed. I was always so afraid of bringing up the person out of fear of dredging up the hurt. As my friend Michelle notes in her Speaking About Grief post, we are not going to suddenly remind them of their loss! They remember every waking second and love nothing more than to keep their loved ones memory alive. Sharing special stories and memories is okay.
You have no idea how much it means to a family when you show up. Make time to attend the visitation or the funeral. Bring food for the family in the weeks following and spend some moments asking how they are doing and listen. Really, really listen. Head to the grocery store and pick up some staples like toilet paper and paper plates and easy to eat food to drop off at their house. Don’t ask what they need because they don’t know, just do it!
One more thing I would like to share. It is human nature when someone dies to want to understand how they died. This is especially true when the person is young. Let me caution you, unless you are very close to the family, if they have not shared this publicly this question can seem very callous. Take a look at your own heart and why you really want to know and think about how you would feel. At the end of the day, someone is gone and others are hurting and possibly wondering how and why themselves. Being there to support without question is so much more compassionate.
Prayers to the family and friends remembering their friend Manda this week.