There are lots of words written about what NOT to say in response to grief but not enough about HOW to respond to grief. This is my experience about what could help when in grief. It specifically is my experience in relation to the death of my 3-day-old baby and the suicide of my mother, it may however also be the case for other people’s grief in different circumstances.
Inquire how I’m doing, what I’m feeling. Don’t tell me ‘it must be hard’ or ‘you must feel so awful’. Ask me, don’t tell me. Ask again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Be gentle when asking, it needn’t be an interrogation.
I’m So Sorry
This is the simplest and most appropriate sentence. It bridges any ‘I don’t know what to say’ moment, an awkward silence that you might be tempted to fill with clichés. Don’t. Just say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’.
Show You Care
The little messages ‘I’m thinking of you’ on the anniversary of my daughter’s or my mother’s death mean a lot. It doesn’t even have to be on that day only. Tell me ‘I hear you’, ‘I’ve been thinking of you’ or ‘I read your blog’. Just recently I received a touching message from someone I don’t even know telling me how much my blog touched her. She was a 38-year-old identical twin who had lost her twin sister when she was 10 days old. I never knew who my writings touch if she didn’t tell me.
Continue To Interact
I must have stunned many people into silence with my grief spell. It’s OK to be contacting me again and again, even if I might not have the energy to hold long conversations. Social interactions are more tiring, yet I still crave to be with people once in a while. I’m no longer the person I was pre ‘date with death’ and as much as I’m sometimes wanting that person back, I have to deal with ‘the new me’. Please try it too.
It’s hard enough to BE sad and depressed, trust me. I’m learning to accept being with what is at any moment. If you can accept that too, you won’t need to make me feel better, offer me advice, solutions, or try and tickle me with humour. Just accept me as I am.
Be With Me
There doesn’t need to be much talking, just even the knowledge that you are not afraid of being in my presence no matter what it will be like. Offer your presence. Even if it’s just by holding my hand.
Respect My Space and My Beliefs
You might believe in God or that ‘it wasn’t meant to be’. Whatever it is, keep it to yourself. You cannot know where I stand in relation to your beliefs. Leave me with mine. Respect where I am in regards to what I believe or even where I might have lost any faith and trust.
No One Really Knows Why
You might be tempted to find reasons, but really no one really knows the answer to the ‘why’ question. Instead of assuming, just ask me how I am today.
Acknowledge The Dead Person
I do understand that you might fear my reaction if you speak about my baby or my mother. Do trust that by acknowledging or talking about them you honour their memory. Say their name.
Respect That I Won’t Get Over It
I didn’t really understand the depth of grief before my personal experience. You do not need to understand it to accept and respect that holding my child in my arms as she passed isn’t something that I will EVER get over. I am learning to live with it, whatever that means. Anything can and will trigger the grief and I don’t always know when or why…
A Word About Comparisons and Stories
No loss compares to another loss. No grief compares to another person’s grief. Do not even attempt to tell me about someone else’s loss or compare me to another person. They all have their stories and their ways of dealing with it. They are all valid. And so is mine.
Tact and Respect
By all means tell me about what is going on in your life, no matter how trivial or devastating it might be. I can handle it if you handle my response with tact and respect. (What I do not need at the moment is trivializations of women who got pregnant and didn’t even want to have yet another child or mothers who abort their baby because of its gender.)
Time is not linear when it comes to grieving. Whether the loss happened just weeks ago, months or years is not respective of the amount of grief that someone is experiencing. ‘She should be over it by now’ is out of the question, it will never ever apply.