Saturday, May 19, 2012

How We Can Help Those Who Grieve

Last night I stumbled upon a blog post at National Catholic Register entitled Grief is Messy, where Jennifer Fulwiler talked about having recently been the first one to a motorcycle accident in her neighborhood, and what she learned about helping people with grief.

I agreed with the things she said: You want to suggest: In grief, do this to be supportive.  But then again, maybe it would be better to do that.  It's hard to know.  I would say that it does depend very much on the individuality of the person who is grieving, and what is most helpful may also depend on their mood (if you will) of the day, or of the hour, or of the moment.  So, yes, it's difficult to know.

As some of you know, I had two back-to-back losses: My sister, my only natural sibling, died suddenly, this past December 8th of a brain aneurysm.  And then, six weeks later, my 26 year old son died unexpectedly in his sleep, on January 19th. Just stating that - stating it for those who may read this who didn't know - is a brain stopper and makes it hard for me to go on writing. I get up and put in another piece of toast and water the plant before I can write some more.

Both my mother and my mother-in-law died years ago, so we cannot turn to them for support. And I feel like I should "be there", more than I have been, for my brother-in-law and my nieces, but it's still hard to find the emotional energy to reach out to others, especially those who have suffered some of the very same losses I have and yet live geographically distant.

Here are some do's from my own experience:
1) Do show up if you can: at the visitation with a hug, at the funeral with your presence, at the door with food, in the mail with a check, at Facebook or email with kind words (no one person need do all those things; do what you personally feel inspired to do). We are so very grateful!
2) Do offer your prayers.  Again, we are very grateful for them!
3) Do be willing to just listen if the grieving person is willing to talk. Nod, encourage, show you are listening - if it's on the phone you can say a few words of affirmation that you are there - but don't worry if you can't think of anything to say.  It's okay to just listen.
4) Do respect that everyone will grieve in their own ways, at their own times. Sometimes we may be laughing as though nothing happened, because we are resilient beings & because we should not put away all thoughts of joy in the midst of sorrow. Other times we may be crying when you might have thought we would be "back to normal" by now.  (I smile a lot, but on Mother's Day - four months after my son's death - I cried through the entire Mass.)

Here are some don't's from my own experience:
1)  Don't ask for money. If the deceased owed you money, could you - would you - just suck it up and write it off?  If there is any money in the deceased's estate, it might take "forever" for even the family to have access to it...and for bills to come out of it.  And if you don't have an agreement with the deceased person in writing that it was a loan not a gift, then it's not recognized in probate, anyway.  Don't add to our worries, and don't add to our pain or make us add to yours when we get defensive or angry.
2)  Don't try to push religion on me right now.  It comes across that I'm not religious enough for you, not quite good enough. The family is religious enough to choose the Gospel to use at the funeral (we were at a church where the family chooses the readings).  Don't tell me why God "took" my son. We will have to figure out the "why" of the death for ourselves...or not figure it out.  One of the best bits of advise I have been given was to not try to figure out the "why".
3)  Don't try to "one-up" me and my family, or to one-up the deaths of my sister and my son.  In the beginning, in my world it was pretty much all about me and my family.  Actually, I still felt very compassionate about your sorrows and challenges, but I wasn't really interested in the details of your brother who died twenty years ago of an aneurysm - and he was only eight years old. You can tell me your brother died of an aneurysm.  Just don't tell me the details quite yet or say "he was so young!" (was my 63 year old sister "old"?).
4)  Don't expect me to return to normal. I have to find a new normal. But don't be afraid of me, either.  (I used to be afraid of people who lost someone and so I would avoid them. I wish I hadn't.)  If you think you may have said something that hurt my feelings, you probably didn't.  You're probably just feeling my pain or distraction, and it's not your fault and you can't solve it. But you can be there for me and it means the world to me. And even if you happen to say "the wrong thing", I'm probably going to get over it quickly because I'll just be grateful you were there for me.

God bless us all, in all our trials in life. May our compassion guide us. And may Our Lord comfort and strengthen us all. 


Lauren Marquis said...

Thank you so much for your well-articulated thoughts on grieving. It is very hard to know what to say or what is needed unless you go through it. I continue to pray for your family, and sadness still continues to surprise me. God bless!

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thank you, Lauren. And yes, I've never known what to do in the past. And before my sister and then Paul died, I would never have thought of giving money. But people did that for us & it was helpful. So many things helped so much! God bless.