When my Mom died I needed this…
I was 26 when my Mom died. I was 18 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. From there it was 8 years of absolute hell. I grew up overnight realizing what really mattered, what doesn’t, what I would tolerate in my life and what I absolutely had no time for anymore.
I describe this time in my life as feeling like I was holding my breath underwater for 8 years; barely taking in oxygen, praying to break the surface of the water hoping that I would never have to go under again only to be disappointed and terrified each time she had another reoccurrence of cancer.
After last week’s guest blogger, Jessica described the loss of her best friend it naturally had me reliving my own needs when I was freshly grieving the death of my Mom nearly 10 years ago.
I hope this information can serve as a guide for those that feel like they can’t find the “right words” or are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Here are a few ways you can support a grieving person:
OFFER SPECIFIC WAYS TO SUPPORT:
Oftentimes when people are grieving they can’t see past their shock, sadness, pain and even anger. They are in survival mode and everything feels like a blur. Time is going painfully slow & the next minute it feels like they are time traveling through space. As much as they may want someone to come over with dinner or would love the company of a friend, a lot of us don’t think to pick up the phone even when we are told to, “Call if you need anything.” Some of us may feel like we don’t want to be a burden, we may not feel comfortable asking for what we need and some of us may not even realize that we actually are in need of something. Additionally, when someone is grieving they can feel incredibly overwhelmed so a seemingly simple request to tell someone what they need can feel like a tremendous task that they cannot currently tackle.
If you’d like to offer help/support be specific: Example: You can say “I’ll bring dinner on Thursday, how many people will be there?” or you can offer to pick up their kids from school, run an errand of theirs etc.
It is common to feel helpless when you care about the person who is grieving. You want to do everything in your power to make things better but the truth of the matter is the pain of losing someone is inevitable and it is often a huge part of grieving.
Many people may be tempted to say something they think might be helpful but it is better to err on the side of listening. Avoid clichés such as: “He is in a better place now”, “At least he didn’t suffer,” “I know how you feel,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It is best to be honest and say “I don’t know what to say ” or “I’m so sorry.”
When I was working in hospice and hospitals around Southern California I quickly realized that “less is more” when it came to supporting a grieving person. What I mean by this is instead of feeling like I needed to scramble to say a bunch of words to express my condolences or try to find “the perfect words to say” in the moment of learning that their loved one had passed, I released myself from this intensely self-imposed position and instead offered my support in the form of a gentle hand on a grieving person’s shoulder, I offered to get a box of tissues or the telephone in case they needed to make a call to other family members and I said I’m sorry because I absolutely was.
Listening, being present, saying I’m sorry and even those that said to me “Man, this fucking sucks” after my Mom died proved to be some of the most significant and supportive things that were said. I remember those words with fondness and I am grateful for them.
Listening is the greatest gift you can give someone who is grieving. Ask them to tell you about the person who died. Encourage them to talk about their relationship and their memories. Respond to emotions as they arise, try to be comfortable with tears, and take time to listen.
UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES ABOUT DEATH THAT MAY BE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN:
It is important to understand that the way someone experiences loss may be shaped by cultural, religious and family traditions. Many cultures and religions have specific rituals when a person dies. Interfering with, restricting or judging these practices may complicate the grief process.
ACCEPT ALL FEELINGS:
Expressing emotions is a natural and necessary part of the grief process. Do not pass judgment on how “well” the grieving person is or is not coping. Everyone grieves in their own way, and in their own time.
The way my brother and I grieve is completely different. I cry, A LOT. I talk about my Mom a lot. I write about her on Facebook, Instagram, this blog, my journal. I look at pictures of her and I speak to my daughter about her Grandma daily. The list goes on and on. I can count on my left hand how many times I have seen my brother cry about our Mom and it’s difficult for me to recall a time when my brother openly talked about her in casual conversation but this absolutely does not mean he loves or misses her any less than I do. He simply expresses himself differently and not only is that ok but I will support his grieving process in the same ways I hope he will continue to support mine.
REMEMBER TO CHECK ON YOUR FRIEND OR RELATIVE AS TIME PASSES:
Periodic check-ins can be helpful throughout the first two years after the death. Stay in touch by writing a note, calling, texting, stopping by to visit, or perhaps bringing flowers.
BE SENSITIVE TO HOLIDAYS AND SPECIAL DAYS:
For someone grieving a death, certain days may be more difficult and can magnify the sense of loss. Anniversaries and birthdays can be especially hard. Even the days and weeks leading up to an anniversary or birthday can be rough for people as they start to anticipate the date which can bring up a lot of feelings. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, others may wish to avoid traditions and try something different. Extend an invitation to someone who might otherwise spend time alone during a holiday or special day, and recognize they may or may not accept your offer.
Thanks for reading, friends!