It has been about a month since I lost my grandfather. My family and I had been preparing for his death for about six months - he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September. Within the last two months, two of my close friends have also lost family members: one lost a grandfather, one lost a father. Throughout these months, and even more so throughout the past month, I have thought a lot about the questions that death triggers: your own mortality, the purpose of life, what happens after death. Even more than those things, I have thought about friendships, relationships, and what it means to be there for a person.
Before anything else, it is important to note that no two people grieve the same way. It is different every time, for every individual. Different people need different things. I only hope to give insight to help guide someone along the way.
Stop saying “I’m sorry.” There is this weird trend in society today where we apologize for everything. There is no reason to apologize for something you did not do or did not have any control over. This is advice you can take into every part of your life. With loss especially, try not to say it more than once. We are all sorry that loss happens. When we say we are sorry, we really mean that we are sad or upset or disappointed, or a whole range of emotions. Say “I’m sad that you are going through this” instead of “I’m sorry you are going through this.” Show that you are feeling something for the person, not just defaulting to words of habit.
Say things like “sending love” or “thinking of you.” It takes less than thirty seconds to unlock your phone, open a new message, type in the person’s name, type those very words, and press send. By expressing these things, you are showing that you are putting in an active effort to help an individual. Even if you already are, the person needs to know. Tell them.
Do NOT say things like “they are in a better place.” First, know who you are talking to. If the person is not religious, they do not believe in that. Do not put someone in an awkward position where you force your beliefs on him or her. Even if the person is religious, most people do not want to hear that. No one wants to be told there is a better place for a person they love to be than here with them.
Sometimes, the best thing to say is “it sucks.” I know it may seem too simple or insensitive. But it does suck. And sometimes it feels good to hear it and say it. There is a lot of emotions surrounding death, and leaving it simple can be the easiest way to handle it.
Do not just say “text me if you need anything.” Do not put that on someone, especially if you are not very close and know that you would not otherwise go to each other for emotional support. Your relationship with someone does not change just because he or she is going through something difficult. If you are close - or if you have been in the past - do not put the responsibility on the individual to reach out. You should be reaching out. He or she already has so much going on, and it is hard to reach out to people and basically say “take time out of your day to support me emotionally.” Actually show up for that person. Saying “let me know if you need anything” is taking the easy way out. It does more for you than it does for the person. Ask how he or she is doing, really. It does not have to be every day, just more than once.
Give the person room to process and feel his or her emotions. You feel a lot of things when you are grieving, and the range of emotions is very difficult to understand, process, and express. Sometimes, the person is going to behave differently than he or she usually would. Sometimes he or she will be snappy, short, distant, etc. Do not take it personally. This is not about you. Do not get angry at that person for feeling and not always knowing how to handle it. (Note: Do be aware of drastic changes that may suggest the individual is experiencing something besides grief, especially if that person has a history of mental health issues).
Like I mentioned before, there is no “right” way to grieve. Each loss is different, each person is different. Each relationship is different, and you should treat this person in a way that makes sense for your relationship. Do not expect to fix things, you will not come anywhere close. Do what you can. Ask what he or she needs. It is all a process.
Love and strength. Copy, paste, repeat.