Advising a Friend about Loss – What Not to do!
Today I was visiting with someone whom I respect very much. I think this person has a pretty good handle on life. He is positive and connected to others. He is kind and caring. We had a great conversation and explored many topics and then toward the end of that conversation…BAM. Advice on my emotion of grief. The grief he had not experienced. The grief he had no reference point of in his own life. The grief he only knew ABOUT. The grief he did not understand from personal experience. He said he wanted to tell me to not be sad to be present and realize I had a husband and other children.
The Truth About Losing a Child
During the conversation, he spoke about his relationship with his daughter and how close they were and how proud of her he was and how much he enjoyed his time with his daughter. My first thought was, tell me about being present when you find out you will never experience your daughter again. Envision her lifeless body laid out on a slab. Hold your other children while they feel the pain of loss. Lift your wife from the floor, multiple times, while deep, uncontrollable sobbing and guttural sounds are being released from her body. Deal with your other children grieving. Their anger, flippant or self-sabotaging behavior. Sit in your daughter’s car. Sort her trinkets and jewelry and try to decide what to do with them. Lie in your daughter’s bed. Smell her pillow. Breathe in her smell and try to capture it to memory. Lift the hair, her hair, from her hairbrush. Hug the stuffed animals from her shelf, the ones you tucked in beside her as a young child. Long for her voice. Call her phone and listen to her voicemail over and over and over again. Then decided what to do with the tangible items left behind. You know, the only things left to show your daughter was on this earth. Wrap your brain around this new, unfamiliar and unwanted normal.
Right after Phil died, I worked in the same office as this man. He got to know me at the lowest point in my entire 49 years. Now, five years later, he tells me how he thought I was such a sad soul when he met me. He was right. I was a sad soul. I reminded him of the timing and he said, “I know, I just wanted you to be present with your family. I want everyone to be happy.” He didn’t want me to be sad. HE didn’t want it.
When Others Need You to Be Happy for THEM
I could feel the heat rising in my body as I listened. He had no idea this was upsetting of course and I knew his intent was well meaning so I didn’t let him have it. It did take great restraint on my part not to let the anger rule my mouth in that moment. He is one of the kindest people I know and for that reason, I redirected my tongue to share with him how grief is normal when you lose a child. I know he was trying to help. Again, he wanted me to be happy. That’s not such a bad thing to want for others, is it?
The Un-Reality of Being Happy all the Time
Why is happiness so grand for people and grief such a challenge? No one lives in a constant state of happiness. It is a ridiculous goal. When someone says, “All I want in life is to be happy.” I think, what a stupid comment. First. It isn’t achievable. No one lives in one emotion all the time. Second. How would you even identify happiness if you hadn’t felt sadness? Third. Why do other people need me to be happy so they can feel good?
How to Give Advice to A Friend about Loss
If you have a friend or family member who has lost someone close to them and they are grieving. Leave them the fuck alone about it. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t give them some lame story about your dog dying and how traumatic it was for YOU. We are human beings. We have emotions. We have feelings. We respond to events in our lives with emotion. Emotions are not bad. As a matter of fact, I think emotions are good and can be healthy when properly expressed. You know why other people want me to suppress my emotions? Because it makes THEM sad or it makes THEM uncomfortable. Fuck that! How about taking responsibility for your own thoughts and emotions. No one else can make you feel anything. How about taking the time to be a friend? Maybe consider being outward focused. Maybe have compassion. How about BE with your friend and listen. They don’t need you to fix it. Because you can’t!
Grief is Healthy Healing
I patiently told my friend this, it’s okay to grieve when you have a great loss. Grief is a human emotion and I think it is a healthy, natural process. I actually think it is necessary to healing. After Phil died, my doctor asked if I wanted antidepressants. I said no. I wasn’t depressed, I was grieving a deep, soul-wrenching loss and I needed to feel it so I could properly heal.
Is There a Way out of Grief?
So, the next time you hear about a friend or family member who loses a child, don’t tell them how to do something you have never had to do. Don’t be an asshole. It is a raw and ugly process and there is no “right” way other than breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in and breathing out is the only way and the rest of the path will unfold before them in time. How much time? No one knows. Each person must find their own way. As long as they want out of the grief, there is a way. There is hope.