People don’t know how to act around grieving people because grief is a very uncomfortable emotion to witness. You want to help, but aren’t sure what help is appropriate or how to offer it. We walk on this seemingly gigantic pile of eggshells around grieving people, always worried we’ll make them more sad.
But why is that? Grief is uncomfortable for everyone and is supposed to be sad. It’s a natural human emotion that we all experience so why do tears and sadness make us so damn unsettled that we choose to avoid it? After all, we can’t really escape grief, can we, because everyone has lost someone they care about. This is another blog post in itself, why our culture is so damn focused on “positivity.” Sometimes there is no positive in a situation.
Sometimes, the situation just sucks. Like Grief. GRIEF SUCKS, because we can’t fix it. We can’t make it go away. So we don’t know what to do with it. Traditionally, interacting with a grieving person goes as follows:
- We contact the person and apologize for their loss.
- We send a card or flowers to show support.
- We attend the funeral/service.
- We wait a ridiculous amount of time to contact the grieving person again.
Why is this acceptable? As a new widow grieving the loss of my late husband, my grief will never go away. It will always be present, because having spent so many years with him, Mark is part of me now, because of the wonderful love he showed me and the person I became. And because of that love, I will always have grief.
I will always feel the love I had with Mark through memories. I will always tear up when I look at his photos, which are around the house. I will always wish for his presence during big family moments, vacations, or when we’re sitting around the table eating dinner. The love I have for Mark will never go away, but if I’m honest, I do hope the continual longing for his presence will subside.
Yet, the sympathy cards are slowing down, the text messages from folks checking in are fewer, and impromptu visits from friends just don’t occur anymore, and I think to myself: The world is moving on …without Mark. But here I am, sitting in the insanely comfortable leather recliner he had to have, with the same raw, gut-wrenching feelings I’ve had for the last 31 days knowing it’s not time to move on.
Grief is a different experience for everyone, and the closer you are to the loss, the more emotional you are, but it pains me to see the world move forward. “How can you move forward and forget Mark?” I think to myself. I know this is not the case, but it feels that way.
One month ago, life came along and metaphorically ripped my arms and legs off. Can a person survive without arms and legs? YES. Would life be harder to live without arms or legs? YES. This is the reality of losing your person: A huge part of you is gone and you’re left to navigate everything around you…limbless.
Remember, your grieving friends need support long after the funeral, because the true grief hasn’t settled in yet. They won’t need hugs all the time…but they’ll need someone to sit with them and listen. Venting makes it less heavy, and BTW, venting doesn’t always include crying. Sometimes destroying things is better, because the physical pain from grief is overwhelming. Let’s go ax-throwing, eh?
People are going to make promises and say all the right things, because that’s grief-standard. Ignore the words. Pay attention to actions. You will learn who your real friends and family are when you’re grieving. I got a lot of offers of help and many of those offers came from fellow “front-row” family members. They were just that — offers. I’ve learned people not “showing up” for you are actually precious gifts from your lost person, although it doesn’t feel like that right now. But believe me, they’re showing you who needs to be shown the door.
People inherently mean well, but most offers of support come from people soothing their conscience. For me those were the people that he wanted — and should have been — present when he was alive. No thanks, take that guilt elsewhere. I have always acted in Mark’s best interests, and every action taken in the years we spent together reflects this.
That being said, I have to remind myself everyone experiences and deals with grief in different ways. Some act out in anger. Some will retreat and give you space. Some will just move on. It’s all okay. We live in this really weird grief-avoidance culture anyway, right?
I somehow survived the first month of Mark’s loss, thanks to support from my family and a few good friends. I also joined an online Young Widows support group to connect with other people who also lost their spouse/partner/person. It’s been a blessing and I’ve already made some great new friends. Yesterday was the one-month anniversary of Mark’s death, and for the first time, I was able to take his ashes out of his Urn. I have seen them before obviously, but yesterday I held them close to me and wept, wishing so deeply that he was there in some ethereal sense, sending me strength.
“Let them go. Let it all go, honey.” I imagine Mark says, as I look out the window and listen to the trees rustle and birds sing.
Once I finished my moment, I placed the bag back into the Urn and a few residual ashes escaped, floating down to rest on my face. I imagine he’s there with me… “Let them go. Let it all go, honey.” I imagine Mark say, as I look out the window, listening to the trees rustle and the birds sing. Okay, honey…you win again. I love you, wherever you are.