Acknowledgement; How to Help a Grieving Friend

I cannot believe another year has come and gone. I cannot believe how fast life is moving, how far away you are getting. How the memories begin to fade, the pain has faded as well, but I wish some would stay to remind me more.  I bought the most beautiful star-gazer lilies for your birthday; we also dropped white ones into the ocean for you. I remember someone saying to me once while at my house-“you always have fresh lilies around” I didn’t respond, but that comment haunts me, I was bothered that they didn’t acknowledge that they were always lilies I kept but said flowers instead. I think well yes because I always want the flower that remind me of my beautiful angel, then I think, why don’t you know that? Are you really surprised? She then asked me where I find them – I say everywhere! When I am at a store and they have lily flowers I buy them. They could ask why I named her Lily and discover it was the very first flower my now husband and father of our children including lily had brought me on our first date and then following anniversaries. In hindsight maybe she was trying to mention my daughter but at the time I was still angry and could not understand why it was so hard for others to bring up. I then thought about how after this past Christmas having had a bouquet of lilies on every surface and having double digit family members visit, I realized they to never comment on my flowers, I think that is odd, I remember having roses or tulips when people come into the house and say ‘wow -nice flowers’ but no, not for my lilies, is it because they think I may be reminded of my angel? well then they are foolish, she is never forgotten even for a second, even if I am smiling she is on my mind and in my heart. Is it because it makes them uncomfortable to acknowledge them? That is probably more likely. Would it be a big deal to just say nice lilies and leave it at that. I have Lilies planted in front and back of my house, I find the fragrance welcoming, I find the sight of them heart wrenching-ly peaceful. I love watching them grow from nothing. Its weird I see a bunch of lilies at the store and feel like I really have no choice, I buy them I feel somehow like I am betraying my lost daughter if I don’t- that may seem obsessive but it hurts no one and you will not hurt me by commenting on my lily flowers in my home- they are not there by accident nor to make you uncomfortable. They are there to comfort me.

On an unrelated topic but still having to do with acknowledging grief or someone’s loss or maybe in my case remembering the person with us. Start by mentioning the beautiful lilies in my house or how it must be hard to experience Christmas without her when just two years ago I was anxiously, nervously awaiting her (late) arrival all throughout Christmas. My Christmas’s will forever be about Lily and how she came and went Christmas to Valentine’s day with New years in between. Huge “celebrations” that are not celebrations for me, but remembrance days of what was supposed to be. She may have lived only two months in the “real world”, but she lived inside me for fortyone weeks (ten months) she lived a thousand days in my mind; how I imagined her first trip to the beach- her and I in matching bathing suits, how I thought of her first or tenth birthdays imagining what she’d look like, how we’d celebrate. – She has lived- in me, in my mind and now in my consciousness, in my heart.

******So I share this-(Written by Megan Devine) on how to deal with others grief because the more aware people are the better  the grievers can cope, with their new life, their new guilt, their new loss that will never be healed.

I especially agree with #5, # 6 and #3……and#4 okay I agree all with all of this!

 #1 Grief belongs to the griever.
You have a supporting role, not the central role, in your friend’s grief. This may seem like a strange thing to say. So many of the suggestions, advice and “help” given to the griever tells them they should be doing this differently, or feeling differently than they do. Grief is a very personal experience, and belongs entirely to the person experiencing it. You may believe you would do things differently if it had happened to you. We hope you do not get the chance to find out. This grief belongs to your friend: follow his or her lead.

#2 Stay present and state the truth.
It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your friend’s present life holds so much pain. You cannot know what the future will be, for yourself or your friend — it may or may not be better “later.” That your friend’s life was good in the past is not a fair trade for the pain of now. Stay present with your friend, even when the present is full of pain.

It’s also tempting to make generalized statements about the situation in an attempt to soothe your friend. You cannot know that your friend’s loved one “finished their work here,” or that they are in a “better place.” These future-based, omniscient, generalized platitudes aren’t helpful. Stick with the truth: this hurts. I love you. I’m here.

#3 Do not try to fix the unfixable.
Your friend’s loss cannot be fixed or repaired or solved. The pain itself cannot be made better. Please see #2. Do not say anything that tries to fix the unfixable, and you will do just fine. It is an unfathomable relief to have a friend who does not try to take the pain away.

#4 Be willing to witness searing, unbearable pain.
To do #4 while also practicing #3 is very, very hard.

#5 This is not about you.
Being with someone in pain is not easy. You will have things come up — stresses, questions, anger, fear, guilt. Your feelings will likely be hurt. You may feel ignored and unappreciated. Your friend cannot show up for their part of the relationship very well. Please don’t take it personally, and please don’t take it out on them. Please find your own people to lean on at this time — it’s important that you be supported while you support your friend. When in doubt, refer to #1.

#6 Anticipate, don’t ask.
Do not say “Call me if you need anything,” because your friend will not call. Not because they do not need, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a phone call to ask is light years beyond their energy levels, capacity or interest. Instead, make concrete offers: “I will be there at 4 p.m. on Thursday to bring your recycling to the curb,” or “I will stop by each morning on my way to work and give the dog a quick walk.” Be reliable.

#7 Do the recurring things.
The actual, heavy, real work of grieving is not something you can do (see #1), but you can lessen the burden of “normal” life requirements for your friend. Are there recurring tasks or chores that you might do? Things like walking the dog, refilling prescriptions, shoveling snow and bringing in the mail are all good choices. Support your friend in small, ordinary ways — these things are tangible evidence of love.

Please try not to do anything that is irreversible — like doing laundry or cleaning up the house — unless you check with your friend first. That empty soda bottle beside the couch may look like trash, but may have been left there by their husband just the other day. The dirty laundry may be the last thing that smells like her. Do you see where I’m going here? Tiny little normal things become precious. Ask first.

#8 Tackle projects together.
Depending on the circumstance, there may be difficult tasks that need tending — things like casket shopping, mortuary visits, the packing and sorting of rooms or houses. Offer your assistance and follow through with your offers. Follow your friend’s lead in these tasks. Your presence alongside them is powerful and important; words are often unnecessary. Remember #4: bear witness and be there.

#9 Run interference.
To the new griever, the influx of people who want to show their support can be seriously overwhelming. What is an intensely personal and private time can begin to feel like living in a fish bowl. There might be ways you can shield and shelter your friend by setting yourself up as the designated point person — the one who relays information to the outside world, or organizes well-wishers. Gatekeepers are really helpful.

#10 Educate and advocate.
You may find that other friends, family members and casual acquaintances ask for information about your friend. You can, in this capacity, be a great educator, albeit subtly. You can normalize grief with responses like,”She has better moments and worse moments and will for quite some time. An intense loss changes every detail of your life.” If someone asks you about your friend a little further down the road, you might say things like, “Grief never really stops. It is something you carry with you in different ways.”

#11 Love.
Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something. Do something. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Be willing to not have any answers. Listen. Be there. Be present. Be a friend. Be love. Love is the thing that lasts.”

Megan Devine is the author of Everything is Not Okay: an audio program for grief. She is a licensed clinical counselor, writer and grief advocate.

You can find her at www.refugeingrief.com

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