Alesia K. Alexander is a community and youth development advocate with a focus on at-risk children and teens who have lost a loved one to death. She’s served as a consultant on grief, loss, gang intervention, and inclusion in the U.S. and internationally and has authored four books: Sunflowers and Rainbows for Tia: Saying Goodbye to Daddy, A Mural for Mamita/Un Mural Para Mamita, Dream Clouds, and Tapestries: A Creative & inclusive Approach to Grief Support with Young People & Communities.
Grief is a set of experiences that involves the perceived loss that someone has around a person, a situation, an event, a happening, that changes the way that they physically, emotionally, spiritually react and respond to the world around them. So, if we're thinking about the way that we're taught that grief is, we're taught that it just involves a death event, a death of a loved one. But grief actually encompasses a series of losses, and a series of change, and has to do with how we integrate that change into our day to day functioning.
Mantra, mantra, mantra around this is, “You will mess up grief work. You will mess up grief support.” I can't even begin to number the times that I've made mistakes. I've made mistakes in this interview around what it is to grieve and what it is to offer support.
I think that key thing is compassion. Compassion for yourself and also compassion for others. Understanding that it's not a griever's job to course correct you. And if they take offense, they're hurt by something that we say, to stay human and to stay really, really humble in our ability to say, "Hey, I didn't mean that. I really mean to say I see you're hurting. I don't know what to say." It has to be this internal space that you're constantly pushing yourself to keep showing up even when you mess it up, even when it's awkward, even when you sound weird or you just missed the mark. And, that is absolutely about attending and showing up for people where they are.
Saying, "Let me know if you need anything," and leaving it to the griever to have to come back and ask creates a less than supportive space for them to do their work in. So, if we say it, we need to mean it and we need to lean into the ways that we can be present.
Which is, instead of saying, "Let me know if you need anything," come with stamps, come with the meal, come with the gift card, come with the case of soda, or whatever that gesture is. It’s important for us to stay active in our response to other's grief so that it's not about them having to come back and make an appeal, which we all know is the uncomfortable part of losing someone is having to ask for help.
“I often get asked, ‘what’s the end game around grief and grief support?’ And, the answer is there is no end game other than to create a real safe environment for all of us, to do the work of loving; to do the work of losing. Grief work is about the work we do on being more human.” Alesia K. Alexander