Megan Devine is a psychotherapist, speaker and grief advocate. She is the best-selling author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief & Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand. Megan’s animated video How to Help a Grieving Friend has been viewed over 28 million times and is used in trainings around the world.
We’ve got such a strongly entrenched entertainment narrative. It's in books, it’s in movies, it's everywhere that our character has this terrible thing that happens to them and then they go through this journey, right? Where they learn what was really important to them. Where they have to learn some life lesson by going through this hardship that they couldn't have found out any other way.
And, when they find that, it's like the puppy dogs arrive and the butterflies and the rainbows and our our hero rides off into the sunset carrying with them, you know, all of the gifts and the lessons that they've learned. It's the classic entertainment arc, right? If you don't do that if you don't follow that expected narrative arc of some terrible event to sunshine and rainbows, then you're failing the narrative. We're all sort of expecting ourselves and expecting each other to find that happy ending.
Life doesn't always have a happy ending. I think that we have to start telling the truth about that. Terrible things happen; and we learn to live with them.
Grief changes your entire address book. The people that you thought would stand by you forever fly off into the ethers or do things so weird and so rude that you have to write them off because you just can't tolerate them in your space. And, people you maybe never thought in your life before death that um would have sort of the emotional chops to show up and listen like people surprise you. I think people surprise you in both directions.
Better is a really strange word to use after the death of somebody you love, so I think of it more as grief gets different. What grief looks like ten years out is going be different for each person. There’s no one-lie fits all for that either. And, again, I think whatever grief feels like for you in this moment at this time is exactly what it should. There’s no one right way. There’s no end point. And, there are days where you feel like you got this and you can live this life without your person. And, there are other days where you feel like you can’t survive one more minute without them here and both of those things are equally healthy and equally valid.
The grocery store is just a full-on assault of everything that’s gone. You’re seeing people with what look like intact, perfect family lives. “Your husband is still alive; I just buried my husband. Your child is still alive and throwing a tantrum in the grocery store; I would give anything for my child to be alive and having a tantrum in the grocery store.”
So, not only is the sensory assault happening, but for some very strange reason, the grocery store is where casual acquaintances want to know how you’re doing really? So you have just pulled yourself together enough to get out of the house. You’ve been sitting in your car in the parking lot for 45-minutes trying to calm yourself down and psych yourself up enough so you can go in and buy your bananas and leave. And, you get to the produce section, and your boss’s sister’s friend’s girlfriend recognizes you and they remember, “Oh my gosh, her brother just died!” And, you’re just trying to keep yourself together to get your bananas and they come up to you and they pat you on the arm and they tilt their head and they say, “How are you, really?” As though, the produce section of the grocery store is the place where you would like to reveal your most personal, intimate emotional landscape to a comparative stranger.
What do you do if you are a compassionate, aware human being at the grocery store and you see somebody down the aisle and you realize, like, “Oh, right, their mom just died last week! Should I say something? Should I not say something? What if they’re just trying to keep it together. I don’t want to be rude.” Well, the first thing to do is to not avoid them. Remember that grieving people see you when you turn down and go down an opposite aisle. That is weird. That is a weird thing to do.
At the same time, you don’t want to invade their personal space. So, it’s important to talk about what should we be doing. So, a really great thing to do when you see somebody and you know they’ve been going through a hard time and you want to respect their space is you can just do this [put hand over heart] and make eye contact and give them a little nod. And, then go about your business. It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge somebody’s reality and respect their boundaries at the same time.
As a support person, your goal here is to not to make anything better for your grieving person; it's to help them feel supported and held no matter what is going on for them.
“The greatest gift you can give someone who is experiencing the loss of a loved one is the ability for you to listen to their story without attempting to fix anything.”Megan Devine