Please don’t tell me to ‘move on.’
Grief is a solitary journey
I have a Master’s Degree in grief. Not a real one, but believe me, I should have an honorary one.
And one thing I know for sure. Grieving stinks.
All of a sudden you’re invited to a party you never wanted to go to. But there are no balloons, no confetti, the only thing being thrown around are your emotions.
There are no tears of joy, but plenty of tears nonetheless. And what makes things worse are some of the things people will say.
“You need to move on.”
If someone lost a leg, would we expect them to walk anyway?
If they lost an arm, would we put a bag of groceries in their arms and still expect them to act as if nothing had happened?
Moving on implies that the person is able to. Sometimes they are not. Pure and simple.
The truth is we’ve been fed a bunch of myths regarding grief. Books have been written with tidy little formulas and time frames. The problem is grief doesn’t fit nicely into little boxes. Grief is messy.
“I know how you feel.”
Even if we’ve gone through the exact same circumstance, because we’re all different people, we don’t really know how someone else feels. It’s not about you, and when we say this, it takes the focus off them and onto us.
“You can always have another child.”
This was actually told to a friend of mine who lost an infant. Brené Brown has done extensive research on empathy. She said when we are talking to someone and we use the words “at least…” we are minimizing their pain. We are silver lining their cloud. And when that happens, the person who is hurting no longer feels free in their feelings.
I have a personal relationship with God. Stated simply, I am a Christ follower. And I’d like nothing better than to tell you that Christians at least know how to comfort those who are hurting.
I’m sure there are some who do. But sadly, there are others who use verses instead of their own words, or who try to get the person back to the way they were.
Here’s a news flash: They will never be the same. When you lose someone who was a big part of your life, you are forever changed.
Grief on both sides
The thing is, when a friend or family member loses a loved one, because they are changed, you also feel loss. You miss the person they used to be. You miss interacting like you used to. You are actually grieving too.
But if you could just remember that what the griever is going through is not by their choosing, maybe it would be enough to get you to pause before you say anything.
Job’s comforters would have done okay if they would have just kept their mouths shut. I still give them credit for showing up. Sometimes people subtract themselves from the lives of those who are grieving. This results in the person feeling abandoned on top of feeling grief.
What should you say?
What does a person in grief need to hear? What would help?
Let me just say, there are no perfect words. But there are 3 things you can give the person in grief. 3 things that may help tremendously.
- give them your presence. You don’t have to say anything, but just showing up says tons. Especially if you come with no expectations.
- give them grace. Let them talk if they need to, let them sit in silence if that will help. Just accept where they are. And if they pull back, don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you. They are just treading water.
- give them your ears. When they are ready to talk, let them talk. Let them cry. Grievers fear their loved one will be forgotten. Maybe you can share a memory you have of their special person. Or maybe you could encourage them to share one. They will never run out of things to say about him/her, they just need someone to share it with.
Life has many losses. My brother and I are the only two remaining people in our family. I have lost my sister to domestic violence, one brother to cancer, another brother to a heart attack. I’ve had a miscarriage, lost my father when I was 24 and my mother when I was 16.
Truly, one of the hardest losses was that of my sweet granddaughter, Olivia, who was just 14 months old. They say a parent should never have to bury a child. The same can be said about a grandparent. Not only do I grieve Livie, but I watch the pain my son and his wife experience, as well as her siblings.
Grief is excruciating. There are no easy answers when those we love are hurting. But just as Jesus showed up for his friends, we can do the same.
There’s a story told of an elderly man who lost his wife. While the neighbors gathered to pay their respects, Johnnie asked if he could go next door for a little while. The parents looked over and saw their son sitting next to their friend and neighbor.
When he returned home, Johnnie’s parents asked him, “What did you say to him?”
“Oh, I didn’t say nothin’,” he replied, “I just helped him cry.”
Johnnie had the right idea. All of us can do that.
Call to action:
Share a loss you’ve experienced?
Did you feel you had support in your grief?
Do you agree that grief is a solitary journey?
I’d love to hear from you.
Life is hard, so I write words to make it softer.
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Helping Someone in Grief: 17 Things You Need to Know.