Friday, February 27, 2015

on grief ... it's ok to eat a box of donuts

I've gotten lots of feedback on yesterday's post, and I am humbled by how many of you took the time to read it.

Many people have said that they don't know what to do what to say how to be around people who are grieving deeply.

I've learned a few things along the way, taught by the grievers. About what's helpful and what's not. Maybe it will help you too.

Helpful:

* I'm [bringing you dinner, taking your kids to practice, coming to clean your bathroom] on Tuesday. What time is best?

Not helpful:

* Call me if there's anything I can do to help.

Why? While this is a sincere offer, we must realize that our friend will not do this. She cannot. She doesn't even know what she needs. You might. If you do, offer them a specific thing. They might say no, and if they do, respect that. But in my experience they usually say yes.

Helpful:

* "It's nice to see you."

Not helpful:

* "How are you?"

Why? They're terrible. Wretched. Lost, Broken. This question invites the lies of "Oh I'm fine" or "God is good." Because they assume you don't really want to know how they are, or that you can't handle it.

Helpful:

* Can I [take you to lunch, bring you your favorite coffee]?

Not helpful:

* You really need to get out of the house - it's not good that you're isolating.

Why? With that kind of statement we are telling them how WE think they should be grieving, and we are pushing them away with our words. But be ok, don't get offended or your feelings hurt if they say no.

Helpful:

* Talk about their loved one. Say their name. Recount a memory you have or remind them of a story they told you once about their loved one. Funny stories are good.

Not helpful:

* Don't mention their name. Avoid "the subject."

Why? There will be no new memories so they need to be reminded. And they might learn something new. Tears will turn to laughter and back to tears. And it's healing.

Helpful:

* Cry with them.  Listen to whatever they have to say. Just listen.

Not helpful:

* Detach from their pain, don't interrupt or even respond to what they are telling you unless they ask you to.

Why? By being willing to enter into their pain, they feel safe and loved. When we avoid the reality of how they are feeling, or try to "fix" whatever they're telling you, THEY detach from you. This one is hard. It is expensive to you, emotionally. But they need it. Be ragged with them.

Helpful:

* I am so sorry. I love you." Be willing to sit with them in silence. Awkwardly.

Not helpful:

* Avoiding them or using a whole bunch of words.

Why? They need you, just you. Not your words. When we avoid them because we don't know what to say, they feel rejected and alone.

Helpful: 

* It's ok! I bet those donuts tasted great! Or, Hey it's ok that you spent the day in bed! You must be so tired.



Not helpful:

* GASP. Frown. Tell them that overeating or hiding or whatever is unhealthy and making them avoid their grieving process.

Why? That kind of reaction heaps more guilt on top of the guilt they're already feeling because of the thing they did or didn't do. You know what? Eating donuts or sleeping all day is no big deal. [Side note: If they start doing [that thing] all day every day, that is different, and a gentle and loving conversation could be helpful. But don't be harsh, and don't judge. Because everyone grieves differently and who are we to say donuts are a bad thing anyway? I love them. And I've been known to eat a whole box myself.]

Helpful:

* Remember how Jesus was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief? You are too. He knows and is grieving with you. [Period. Don't expect a response.]

Not helpful:

* "God works all thing together for good." or "Don't be anxious for anything." Etc.

Why? While they know that what you're saying is true, because God said it after all, it just sounds like platitudes and more telling them how they should feel. That they should be feeling thankful. And they can't. Yes. Eventually they might know this truth deeply and fully, but there is nothing good right now. Worst ever? "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." My turn to gasp - really? Never say that. Never.

Helpful:

* Be available but wise and discerning when you visit.

Not helpful:

* Clinging, smothering, staying and staying and staying. 

Why? They are tired. They feel like they have to "entertain" you, to be "hospitable." Most likely their mind is wandering and they are uncomfortable after a short time. If they ask you to stay, by all means do it. But if not, keep it short.

Helpful:

* Hang around. Don't smother, but continue to reach out, whether they can respond or not. Remember the anniversary of their loved one's death and reach out on that day. Bonus points if you remember their birthday!

Not helpful:

* Disappearing after the funeral.

Why? That's when the real grieving begins. The shock wears off, the crazy of getting things in place for the events is over, and suddenly they're alone. The texts the cards the calls the visits stop coming just when they might need them most. 

Helpful:

* Be yourself with them. What was the nature of your relationship before? Do that. Be wise and thoughtful, but be brave enough to be yourself.

Not helpful:

* Acting weird. 

Why? You think they need you to be different, they think you are acting weird. They need you to be normal, because the normal you is the one they love.

Helpful:

* Forgive them for the crazy things they do or say when they are in the depths of grief.

Not helpful:

* Being offended or disappearing because of the crazy.

Why? Easy. They can't help it. They don't know what they're doing or saying and probably won't even remember it. They don't mean to hurt you. Let it go

PLEASE HEAR ME ON THIS: I am not judging you. I am not telling you you're doing it wrong. You may know exactly what your friend needs. If you do, DO THAT. My only intent is to help anyone who doesn't know what to do, what to say, how to be.

Love them. They need you.


Until next time,
Angie


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the practical advice. I never know what to say except I'm sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jerralea, often 'I'm sorry' is EXACTLY the right thing to say! Glad this was helpful.

    ReplyDelete

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