If there’s one thing I’d never wish on my worst enemy, it’s to lose a loved one. It’s unimaginable and shatters your world in ways you never thought possible. But as quickly as it takes to lose someone, the actual act of mourning that loss takes far longer. Maybe that’s why I’ve always found comfort in the fact that grieving is a verb…
Naturally, I’ve been thinking about grief a lot this week. This Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of my father’s death.
Fifteen birthdays. Fifteen Christmases. Fifteen summers. So many memories without him. The scale between memories with him and memories without him is really starting to tip — and not in the direction I’d like, either.
Plus, it’s been 15 years of grieving. I’m not talking about that deep pain, can’t-stop-crying kind of grief that dominated those early years after my father’s death. Thankfully, that fog has lifted and given way a new sort of grieving — it’s a dull heartache, a tug at your soul, a general sense that something isn’t right, a particular awareness on every birthday, holiday and anniversary. This new feeling settles in you and it’s ongoing. Because grieving is ongoing. It’s a verb. It’s something you do every day for the rest of your life.
That’s what I wish people understood. That grief is never something you just “get over.” As I remember my father this year, here are some grieving dos and don’ts I wish someone had given me 15 years ago…
• Let people tell their story: Sure, they may have told it before, but there’s immense healing in giving voice to our experiences.
• Check in: Helping someone who’s grieving doesn’t always have to include grand gestures. It can be as simple as a “thinking of you” text. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it more than you know.
• Give them space: Sometimes, though, people need to be alone. That’s OK too…healthy, even.
• Tell them how to grieve: Basically, don’t give advice unless you’re asked for it. I’ve noticed this unsolicited advice runs rampant on social media. In fact, there’s even an official name for it: Grief policing. In the digital age of social media, where grief has become a much more public process, experts describe grief policing as “the notion that there is but one way to grieve, and that deviation from that way is wrong. The tendency to tell mourners that, essentially, they’re mourning too much, or not enough. The desire to restore order to a practice that has become, culturally, chaotic.” Don’t be the person who tells someone how to mourn, or even worse, to stop mourning altogether.
• Tell them to remember the happy times: Believe it or not, sometimes remembering the happier days can make someone feel even sadder. Telling them to focus on the happy times is not only patronizing, but it also minimizes their experience. Sadness and remembering the good times are not mutually exclusive. You can have both; in fact, feeling sad that you lost someone you loved doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten the happy memories you shared with them.
• Tell them they should be “over it” by now: Grief has no timetable and it’s a different process for each person. Don’t shove your experiences and expectations on someone else. It’s not helpful. AT ALL.
Bottom line: Grieving is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight — and maybe not even over a lifetime. Be patient. Be respectful. Be present. And listen.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for another person is just *be* there with them. Don’t muddle the moment with words. Sending love and healing as we all go through this grief journey. I love you all…and I love and miss you, Dad… xoxo
[Photos via We Heart It]