A friend shared a post with me about something I think she expected I already knew: July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. No, I didn’t know that. But now that I do, this month mustn’t end without me posting this next blog. Though losing a child carries with it a kind of bereavement like no other, the deep sadness of losing someone treasured is always profoundly despairing. So, if someone you know and care about has lost or is losing a beloved, if you’ve found yourself in interactions where you’re uncertain what to say or do in the face of loss, or if you are part of a support team for one who has endured a heartbreaking loss, this blog is written for you.
My new book, Finding Grace, journeys of grief, courage and healing contains essays and stories about navigating loss while finding grace within that journey. Delicate conversations, uncomfortable silences and tender confusion are all a natural part of such navigation. But clichés, platitudes and easy answers are not. Try to understand: from the very moment each learned of his/her loss, life shifted irrevocably for our friend, our neighbor, our loved one, our colleague. Choosing to interact with those who are either now in, or have experienced, heart-aching grief is a commitment to walking into their sacred space. It requires us to stop and think, to prepare to enter into conversation on another’s terms because what we say and do in this very personal place is elemental, significant, and often remembered.
Below is a partial compilation of the collective wisdom of different support organizations for the grief stricken. In my collection of best hopes are also the grieving voices who shared with me what they needed from others who “meant well” but were often uninformed and hurtful. You’ll note that the list is written from the perspective of the griever . . . actually, it is from the viewpoint of us all because no one is without an example of irreplaceable loss.
Following are a few of a more comprehensive list found in the book:
Understand that I am no longer who I was before someone I never wanted to outlive, died. I will have good times and bad but I will never expect you to make me all better.
Please don’t rely on old messages. “He had a good, long life” or “At least she’s out of pain” or “Aren’t you lucky that . . .” are all phrases that minimize a life and its loss.
Sometimes things around me move too quickly; sometimes there is too much expected of me. if I walk away, don’t take it personally. I just need some quiet moments alone.
Please ask instead of telling me how you believe I must be feeling. I’m not you, so how can you know? To say “I know just how you feel” or “You must be relieved” hurts.
Please never presume that your grief is just like mine, or feel you have to share your grief story with me. Though we have loss in common, our situations will always be very personal and individually unique to each of us.
Though we’ve all lived as grievers, these delicate, powerful encounters with others are not about us. This time we have chosen to act in service to others. To be most helpful, keep close some phrases and questions you know will only show support. Consider these: “How are you feeling today?” “May I call you today?” “How may I help you right now?” Stay in the present with your comments and never presume a timeline for someone else’s suffering. Grief has no schedule. Visualize yourself as a listening, supporting presence who can accept silence; won’t presume to understand, but will ask gentle questions; and will allow grief’s emotions into the conversation without intellectualizing the pain.
Every grief situation is unique and though we can never always have just the right language for each, we can let our calm speak for us; we can watch and listen for cues; we can be a gentle presence of Grace – always standing by.