Grieving people want you to know
We asked people who have lost a loved one to share their best piece of advice for supporters:
Part of people's response to grief comes from a place of wanting to help, wanting the other person not to be sad or suffering. Uh, and, and it's okay to let someone be sad. It's okay to let them have their feelings, um, and you'll find out who, who the people are, who can be with you when you're sad and when you're crying.
In the moment, and then many times forever after, you don't know what you need. And I think a lot of my closest family really struggled with the fact that I wasn't telling them what we needed.
I think that when you are in the midst of grief, the people that kind of rise up to the top and support you through it, in the acute and in the chronic stages of grief. They are, they're the people that never ask for anything. They just continue to support you, and validate you, and acknowledge without asking for anything in return. There's, there's nothing like that.
The people that have supported me the most, have supported my family the most at a very empiric level say that, "We see you," that "We're here for you," and that, "I'm giving this to you because I think that this is hard, that, that you're suffering." And you just, they don't want a thank you card. They don't want to know how the soup tasted (laughs). They don't, they don't ask any other question after that.
That's what, that's what it looks like to me. And I've had, I've had some really close friends who at, at work and my outside of work life who have just asked me, you know they've asked me about how to be a supportive person to someone who is in grief when you don't know how to do it. and I tell them that, I tell them to be consistent and to give without asking anything in return. They show up, and then they show up again, they show up again. They do something, and they ask for nothing in return. Not even a conversation. Not even answering the doorbell. They'll knock once, leave it on the front step, and walk away.
One of the nights, I remember not too long after I lost Drew, it'd probably been a couple of months. So I was still pretty raw. Um, a friend had me over for a glass of wine, and we as we sat and talked, um, I don't know how to explain it, that it was a different type of conversation than I had been having with other people. And maybe part of that is because, um, she has a son who has some mental issues and has had struggles. And, um, so she asked me some questions that were not, um, they weren't, they weren't probing inappropriate questions. They were just questions from the position of wanting to understand how I felt.
"Tell me how it was like, tell me how it feels." You know, it wasn't, it wasn't anyone saying, you must feel this, this, this at all. Right? It was the opposite of that. It was, I can't imagine how that feels tell me.
And so it was an opportunity for me to be able to talk and say some things to someone that I hadn't maybe said yet and to share some things that I hadn't shared yet. That conversation really meant a lot.
One of the things that I definitely try to do to help other people going through this process. I look at, you know, okay, what were some of the major issues that I had? And also, you know, what am I capable of, of offering to somebody?
And especially going through sort of a long-term illness, uh, there's lots of ups and downs. And, you know, when you have a normal relationship with your mother, um, there ... or with anybody that you love, it's not all roses all the time. You're gonna get mad. You're gonna get upset. And in a, you know, non-terminal illness situation (laughs), um, you express those feelings. And nobody thinks that that's a problem. Everybody knows, well, of course you love your mom. You're just like, mad at her today.
But when your mom is sick and could die any time, um, it's, nobody wants to hear anything negative. Right? Oh, no. Like, you, you start to say, oh, I'm really mad at my mom today. They're just like, oh, but, but think about how much you love her. And it's like, yes, obviously I love her. And, yes, obviously like, I'm not gonna stay ... but I just need to let it out.
And I felt that a lot of people didn't get that, and it's like, well, I can ... if I could just let out this frustration that I have, because she's doing something that's she's done all her life, and it irritates me. It's irritated me since I was a child, and it still irritates me, and I just need to say it. So that ... and I can't, I don't wanna say it to her face like I would if she was healthy, because I don't wanna have that interaction with her. But I need to say it to somebody.
So that then when I interact with her, I don't have that resentment feeling. And so that is something, um, that I definitely tell any, any friends, um, you know, if they, if they're going through this process. And I say, "hey, you can tell me all the horrible things that need to be said that you don't wanna say to anyone else, and I will not judge you for it. Because I know that you're saying them, and I won't ask you to say, oh, but I still love my mother. Or, oh, but I still love my father. Or what, whatever it is. Like, I understand that. You don't have to put that disclaimer anywhere. You can just complain and say all the horrible things that you wanna say, that you need to get out. So that when you go back into the situation, you can go back with a full-up, and not harbor any of this."
I guess it's not the words. It must be how it was said.
I remember, um, having to call up the Navy Federal Credit Union. And I- when I- you know, you have to explain the closing of his account, um, with the person, and I just, I think she was from the South, because she had a drawl. Um, and I just, at the end of the conversation she just said, "Keep your chin up, okay?" Now, that's not something we'd say in LA for sure. But I could tell it was sort of an idiom. And I could also tell she really meant it, and it came from her heart. And I still remember that to this day.
It is okay to ask that person how they're doing. It might not be the answer that you're looking for because that person might not be doing okay, but it's okay to ask. And it might make the person upset. I guarantee you there will be tears, but we need to talk about it.
If you're trying to support someone through a grieving process, I would say don't exclude them 'cause they're sad. Just, invite them along to whatever you're doing. But, don't expect ... don't push an expectation that they will be happy.
There's ... That's not possible sometimes. And happiness might arise from doing a thing. But, if that is your push ... to push someone to be happy, that's not fair to the person who's in deep grief 'cause that's something that's not available.
Uh. So, making space for your friend, or your person, or your sweetheart to just be there without expectation, I think, is really important. ... you know, if you like to run together. Like, "Oh, hey. I'm running on Tuesday at seven. I'll run by your house. Come out if you want." Like, whatever it is. Just so it's like, offering connection without expectation.
A couple months after we lost Drew. My husband and I went to a wedding. And, um. Someone, an acquaintance, not a close friend, um, told me she was so sorry. And then, a few sentences later, she looked at me and she said, "Do they know what it was?"
And, and I just, I mean, I was so taken aback.
I thought, she's, uh, "What is she asking me? Do they know what it was? She wants to know what it was that killed him. How, how do you ask somebody that?" My friends hadn't even asked that , right? Kind of, stop me cold in my tracks. I just couldn't believe it. That somebody would ask that.
I, and, and that's, I think part of, you know, when you, when you speak out, and when you, when you say, "My son died from an overdose." People think they have the right to ask questions.
I think people struggle with confronting grief, and also supporting those who are in grief, because we know we're bad at it. It's almost impossible to acquire proficiency at grief, because every situation is different.
I think one of the biggest aspects for me is just being able to be open and honest and listen, as well as give your input, but not tell people what they should think or how they should feel.
Because despite how well you might think you know somebody, or appreciate how they may feel at that given moment, you don't.
You just have a very objective view, and the only opinion that matters in that moment for that person is their subjective view of what's happening.
It's very challenging, I think, and people shy away from challenge. Nine times out of 10, you're going to probably strike out trying to help somebody who's grieving, but the fact is, you've got to be persistent. You've got to keep helping them, keep talking, keep asking the question. Offer your assistance, your support, your love, your interest. Just letting people know that you matter, and you care about them and you take an interest in what's going on in their life, I think that that goes a long way.
One of the things that helped me was that someone, a really good friend, just decided that he's going to call me every day. And just check in. And that went on for months and months. And that was just helpful. It was helpful to know someone was checking in. Um, that I could just talk about whatever I needed to talk about. Um, that I could expect it at some ... That was nice, just knowing someone else was there.