First off let me say how overwhelmed and thankful I am for all that likes, shares and comments on my last post 12 Grief Clichés and the reasons they suck. I’ve never had such a massive response to my writing and it was amazing to have those words connect with so many hearts.
On the flip side of that, a handful of people commented that the list of clichés just made them more anxious when it came to interacting with their grieving friends
Many stresses the good intentions of those who deliver clichés in a time of awkwardness and pain and felt a little bit like I was throwing them under the bus with the post.
Here’s the thing, I never meant to suggest that those who bear clichés do so with ill intent. I would say that for the most part clichés come out in the anxiety of helplessness. That being said, words bear weight and those of us who resonated with the post needed to have them dismantled because bad words with good intent, still hurt.
And now more people know what not to say, and that’s a good thing.
Moving on, many of you asked for a list of what one SHOULD do or say in the midst of grief and pain and I absolutely agree, now that we have dismantled, let’s build up.
Like this first list, this one is crowd-sourced and comes not only from my own experiences but from those who were willing to chime in for what they found helpful in their worst moments.
1) Speak Up– Saying something and fumbling it is still better than saying nothing at all. Even worse than hearing clichés is not hearing nothing from those who supported you in the good times. I lost friends after the deaths of both my parents simply because people stopped talking to me, that hurt worse than any cliché. I know that it’s scary and sensitive to speak up, but know that few words are needed. Just go and listen, open up the floor for them to talk about the person they lost, they want to do that. They want to remember what was for fear it may slip away.
2) I’m sorry + hug (this is especially useful for formal events like funerals and wakes) Not everyone is a hugger so proceed accordingly, but remember that going out of your way to attend a funeral related event speaks volumes. It’s a busy time and not usually conducive for long chats so you don’t need to say much more than: “This sucks, I’m sorry” Remember that words don’t fix it so you don’t need to worry about having the right ones, just go.
3) Share a story- This year on the anniversary of my mom’s death my friend emailed me a ridiculous story about my Mom. Years previously my mother had flipped out with worry that my sister’s and my curling irons and flat irons would burn down the house. So she tried to pawn them off on people from church out of the back of her car. When this didn’t work she thew them all away in a gas station dumpster. I was so pissed at the time but when my friend emailed me the story about my mom forcing a flat iron on her it made me laugh and remember my Mom in a way I’d totally forgotten.
You can do this at any time, not just on anniversaries or funerals, people cherish stories of those they lost.
4) Practical Support- Grief is a time where life screeches to a halt, this means that the person you care about may have missed work or have increased travel costs. Think through that and then support them that way. My dad died from a sudden heart attack when I was in college and my best friend’s parents covered my rent . Later my church friends helped with my Dad’s headstone. When my Mom died my husband’s work covered our unexpected travel costs. I would have been sunk without these thoughtful gestures.
5) Acts of Service: You what what the most common response is to the question: “Can I do anything?” It’s no. We all want to be on the serving end and never want to admit that we need help. But we do, we need help. My best advice here is to be a little, just a little, pushy about this. Say something like: “Hey, I’m taking your kids this week, when is most helpful?” or “Hey I’m bringing you a meal, what day works?” Or just drop off practical necessities like paper plates, toilet paper or diapers, grieving people are forgetful of such things.
6) On food (Yes, this one needs it’s own category) The short and overwhelming response from readers was, yes to food! There are really helpful websites when it comes to setting up meal deliver and maybe you can be the one to offer set it up. I’ve personally used and recommend Care Calendar. Without organization things can get a little crazy. If there is no organization in place I recommend making something freezable or dropping off really great takeout gift cards. Also, keep dessert proportionate, although once I ate my way through an entire sheet cake with no regrets so maybe just go for it.
8) Go the distance– There is no “all done” in the journey of loss, it keeps going. I was immensely thankful for those who checked in on how I was doing for months after the funeral. It was so refreshing to have someone open the floor for something I worried people were hoping I wouldn’t bring up, to know that they didn’t expect me to be all better.
9) Remember special dates– Put loss anniversaries on your calendar and try to remember them like birthdays, yes it’s more morbid but death is a part of life. I assure you it will mean everything to your grieving friend that you took the time to remember. Ask them if you can help them remember. For years after my dad died we did what was called “soup and pie” where my friends came over for my favorite comfort foods and a time of remembering. One year we just played board games but it meant everything that they were there supporting me.
10) Pray in the moment- Many readers echoed this, but as a people we so often don’t follow through after uttering the phrase “I’ll pray for you.” We’re all sort of in on this dirty secret and we know that when someone says it, all to often (not all the time) it doesn’t happen. So pray for them in the moment, briefly, authentically. You can even text it. It may seem weird, but it won’t go unappreciated.
11) Thoughtful Gift- In-between the two visitation services for my Dad my church group showed up all at the same time to circle around me and pray. Instead of flowers they brought me a willow tree figurine of a father and daughter, I have it to this day and every time I see it I remember them and that thoughtful moment.
Thoughtful gifts could be anything: a journal, a piece of jewelry, a picture frame. Be thoughtful about what would best speak to the person you’re supporting.
12) Permission to Lament (for a long while) If your grieving friend tells you that they’re pissed, depressed, empty, exhausted or just all around seeing the world with gray glasses, Tell them that’s okay. Give them full permission to feel everything that they need to feel. They don’t need your permission, but it helps to know that you don’t expect otherwise.
13) Permission to Screw up (Dead dad pass) – Do you watch New Girl? Well you should. Last season one of the characters unexpectedly lost his dad and anytime someone pushed him or asked too much he’d just yell out “Dead Dad Pass!”
Encourage your hurting people to do the same, let them to be as strange or as messy or as out of it as they need to be. I swear to you that I spent the two months in-between my mom’s death and Caedmon’s birth in the bathtub.When people came to carol our house that Christmas, guess where they did it? Yup, bathroom window. The tub was my pass.
I hope that these help, that you can refer to them when you need to. Mostly I want you to feel comfortable to love well in the midst of loss.
If you’d like to add to the list, please do so in the comments, I don’t pretend to know it all when it comes to how to love well in the midst of loss.