I am certainly no expert when it comes to giving advice about grief, but I have learned a few things along the way. I’ve started compiling lists of lessons I’ve learned from loss. You can find list one here and list two here. Undoubtedly, more lists will be coming… If I were asked to suggest one piece of advice to help someone who is grieving, I’d be hard pressed to come up with just one thing, but I’d probably have to go with this:
When someone’s loved one has died, one simple thing you can always do which offers so much comfort is allowing the grieving person to talk about their loved one, if they so choose of course.
I don’t know exactly why it is, but many people have the mistaken notion that if we don’t talk about something or someone, maybe we won’t think about it/them quite so much. This is so not true.
Years ago a dear friend of mine gave birth to a full-term, stillborn baby girl. My friend knew her baby was stillborn before the delivery. My friend and her husband named their baby Jenny. They held Jenny. They wept for Jenny. They kept a bit of Jenny’s hair. They had tiny footprints made. They saved whatever precious treasures they could and tucked them away to take out from time to time during all the years ahead in which Jenny would not be physically present. They held a memorial service for Jenny. They grieved deeply then, perhaps they still do.
That was a rough time for me as a friend. I felt completely helpless. Of course I called my friend. I visited her. I took meals to her family. I sat with her. I cried with her. I listened to her lament. I did what I could, always knowing it wasn’t enough, not even close.
One of many things I learned from that experience was that my friend wanted to talk about Jenny and so we did, and not just for a few days or for a few weeks. Jenny remained part of our conversations for a very long time; in fact, sometimes we still speak of her.
I remember one day after a period of time had passed since her loss, my friend confided with me how she felt even more sad when others didn’t talk about Jenny. Talking about the loss was excruciatingly painful, but not talking about it was even worse. It was like erasing Jenny.
I found the same to be true when a dear cousin of mine was killed in a tragic truck accident. The pain I saw in my aunt’s eyes during that time sometimes haunts me still. That loss was decades ago, but I know my aunt still likes to talk about her son from time to time. It’s not like she’s forgotten him. Talking about him helps keep his memory alive.
Ever since my mother died from metastatic breast cancer in 2008, I have come to realize that some of my family members like to talk about her lots and others prefer to talk less, or even not at all. No way is right or better. We are all different in how we grieve.
Yes, we are all different in how we grieve, but giving someone the option to talk about their loved one who has died is almost always welcomed.
All you have to do is ask. All you have to do is listen.
What could be simpler and more compassionate than that?