People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Aftermath

I don’t usually give advice. Even if you ask me for advice, I might shrug because really, why would I think that I know more than you about anything?

But grief…I know a lot about that. It’s a shitty thing on which to be an expert, but that doesn’t mean I should let that expertise go to waste, right?

Right. And since my own grieving husband is coming home tonight, I have the topic on my mind.

So, here it is: everything I know about supporting a person who is grieving.

Do something.

Grief and loss suck major ass. Our natural instinct is to run away from ass-sucking things. We don’t want to be uncomfortable; we don’t want to feel our own pain; we’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and making it worse. Some grief (especially if it’s the kind that comes from a sudden, violent death or the death of someone very young) is overwhelming, even terrifying, to witness.

And still, do something. Show up. To compound the loss of death with abandonment by the living is unspeakably cruel.

Leave the platitudes at home. Preferably locked up tight. Consider burning them.

We are afraid of pain, and the bigger the pain we’re witnessing, the more afraid we are. The more afraid we are, the more frantic we become to make the pain stop.

Platitudes are phrases that are meant to stop the expression of pain. They are stale, airless, ugly things that help no one except, perhaps, the person who says them.

God needed her in heaven.

He’s in a better place.

Be grateful that…he didn’t suffer/you have (or can have) other children/you had X number of years together/her pain is over.

In fact, we want our loved ones here on earth, with us. That’s why we grieve. If you don’t know what to say, just say, “I’m so sorry,” or “I miss her.”

Grief isn’t just about sadness.

Loss causes us to feel sad. That’s pretty universal, but depending on the circumstances of the death, a person who is grieving may also feel fear, anger, guilt, and a host of other feelings. No feelings are bad or wrong. Let the feelings happen as if they were a force of nature that you are powerless to stop, because they are.

Dump the expectations.

Grief is not a uniform set of behaviors. Some people scream and some people cry quietly. Some people want to be surrounded by those who love them and some want to be with just one or two friends or family members. Some people are absolutely knocked off balance by grief; others continue to function mostly as usual even under the weight of their pain. Most people experience grief very differently at different times. No way of grieving is right or wrong.

Grief is powerful, and it will have its way. Our expectations about how big or small the grief over a particular loss “should” be don’t matter a bit. Honor the grief of the person in front of you, even if you think it “should” be smaller or bigger, quieter or noisier, longer or shorter.

Skip the religious sentiments unless you know you share a common tradition.

We don’t all believe in God, or the same God. We don’t all believe in heaven, or the same heaven. We don’t all believe in prayer. Just like with the platitudes, if you don’t know what to say, just say, “I’m so sorry.”

It will last longer than you think it will.

In the immediate aftermath of a loss, the whole world slows down for a little while to observe someone’s passing. We have rituals. We send flowers and casseroles. After awhile, we return to our lives.

For those closest to the person who has died, though, grief is a tenacious bitch. Be the person who continues to be willing to bear witness to grief. Be the one who comes over when you get a tearful late-night call six months, two years, five years, ten years, or even longer after the loss. Be the person who understands that our cultural expectations about how long grief “should” last are at best silly, and at worst profoundly destructive.

Grief will ebb and flow. It usually weakens across time, but it doesn’t go away. Be the person who gets that.

You can’t fix it, so get in it.

Loss is a part of life. We are all going to lose people we love, and we will all have occasion to help someone travel through a valley of grief. We can’t make that not happen; we can’t make the pain better. What we can do is be present.

That being present, the sitting with and holding hands may not seem like much. It may seem pale and small, but in fact it is vast and powerful and vibrant.

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29 comments to Aftermath

  • beautifully said, lady
    karmen recently posted..Sea Ninjas vs Sea Ninjas

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adrienne Jones, Adrienne Jones. Adrienne Jones said: About grief.http://su.pr/2AovzG [...]

  • What an awesome post, thank you x

  • You know I (unfortunately) know how important these words are. Thanks. You are awesome. And I’m so sorry you have to take this ride yet again.
    Varda (SquashedMom) recently posted..Not a Valentines Day Post

  • This is going to prove very helpful, as I’m not good with death, but a close friend’s father is currently dying of lung cancer and doesn’t have much longer left.

  • “It will last longer than you think it will.”

    I was given two weeks (with no time off work, no funeral, still working full time and taking care of an 18 month old) with my dad.

    Then people started complaining.
    Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points recently posted..The Nanny

  • Absolutely spot on.
    Toni recently posted..the elevator pitch

  • Also? Don’t say “I know how you feel” or something like that. Because NO YOU FUCKING DON’T.
    Superjules recently posted..More About Registries

  • You have it right. I don’t usually love advice, but this is wisdom, so it is different. Also you wrote it here, not to someone specific, so it is the best wisdom imparted.
    karen tsang recently posted..Of magical thinking

  • Thank you for this. When my now ex-husband’s mother died suddenly, I had an expectation of what his grief should look like and was confused when he didn’t respond how I though he should or how I would. It drew a wedge between us because I didn’t respond to how he was grieving how he needed me to. I wish I would have read this then,,, it is so important to just be there for someone who is grieving, no matter how they respond.

  • Adrienne

    I really love that you wrote this! I immediately saved it into my email,because I know there will come a time in my life that I am going to need it.

    I think the advice is great and as I was reading it I cringed a few times when I realized that I was guilty of some of the stuff that was wrong to do.

    just thanks

    that is all
    AmyLynn recently posted..Demonicus Ducks

  • Very well said. I’m still thinking of you all.
    Kimberly recently posted..Come Join Me At Postpartum Progress

  • Erika

    Thank you for this post; it all so true. My love is with you guys as you go through this.

    May I add a few of my own?

    1. Personally, I don’t like it when people say “I’m sorry”. It might help some; but it makes me want to bash your head in (nothing personal – in fact, nothing I say against you in this time is usually personal). WHAT, are you sorry for? I prefer people stick with “I miss him/her”, or something like that.

    2. Admit you don’t know what to say or do. It’s better than any empty words or flat out lies. It’s OK, too. In times like this, we don’t want advice or magic words – we don’t want to be “fixed”. We want to scream. We want to cry. We want to break everything in our sight. We want our loved one back.

    3. After you admit you don’t what to say or do, be there. You don’t have to say anything, really. A long hug, or just being in their presence goes a long way.

    4. “I love you, I’m not leaving”. It sounds cheesy, and it would be best if you show it with actions or a better phrased sentence; but I know, for me, I feel angry and abandoned after death. I’m a mess, and I know it. I think everybody will leave. I understand and expect it. I need someone to prove me wrong.

    5. Pay attention and do something. No, you shouldn’t jeopardize your life for their sake; but if you have time and money, your actions will speak loudest. Call and check on them. Ask if they’d rather you come over or if you need time alone. If they seem to be unable to leave the house, buy them groceries. Invite them to lunch/coffee/some place with a lot of chocolate. Bring lunch to them. Watch/play their kid.

    6. Listen and validate. There is no right or wrong way to feel or act during greif (unless these actions are dangerous or self-destructive – like binge drinking. Even then, don’t preach to them; just sit with them). If they need to burn the pictures of their loved one, supply the matches. If they need to sit on their bed for hours and look at pictures, carry the photo albums for them. Never criticize their emotions.

    7. Don’t say you understand. Honestly, don’t. Even if you went through the exact same thing, a) every person is different and b) it just won’t help.

    8. Don’t underestimate kids. They understand more than you think. Don’t use phrases like “passed away” or “went to sleep”. Other than the fact this can confuse young children (“When will she wake up? Where did she go?”), it is just better to tell them, in the gentlest of terms: “You know how Uncle Jon was really, really sick? Well, his body got really tired of fighting off that sickness/the sickness spread through his body/etc. That sickness killed him. He’s dead.” Then let them know that you love them, are here for them and that it is their right to feel whatever they need to. Oh, and if the death is violent, don’t keep that away, either. My friend was murdered in 5th grade. They refused to tell us. We did what any kid would: asked other kids, other adults and secretly watched the news.

    9. You’re not going to able to fix this. Accept that. Nothing you can say, or do will make this go away faster. People grieve in their own time; there is no expiration date. Be there and help them survive; but do not try to “fix them” or make it all better.

    Erika

  • Liz

    I was going to pick out a couple of my favorite points, but they are all so good.

    I wonder why we tend to be so awkward when someone we know suffers loss. Maybe because grief and mourning are so personal?
    Liz recently posted..My Amputated Ponytail

  • TJ

    “That being present, the sitting with and holding hands may not seem like much. It may seem pale and small, but in fact it is vast and powerful and vibrant.”

    So true…being present, open to feeling someone else’s pain and not running from it…that is a gift. I’ve been through this from both sides several times–the one experiencing loss and the one trying to comfort another through loss. Even 14 years later (this week) I can find myself reeling from my brother’s sudden death. The grief ebbs and flows, but it does not dissipate.

    thank you for sharing.

  • Brooke

    Adrienne, I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. And I’m grateful that you’ve used this post to turn some of that feeling outward, where it can help some other folks. This is the best succint wisdom about grieving I’ve ever seen. Many, many thanks.

    I’ve had a lot of practice at grieving. And even so, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being surprised by the endlessly new ways in which an old grief can overtake me. Or, also, by how profoundly grateful I am every time one of my friends is willing to meet me there, meet me in that place of grief, and stay there awhile. I just — literally, just before I turned on the computer — got off the phone with one of my oldest, dearest friends. I referenced, as part of a conversation about something entirely different, a very old loss, probably the deepest of my life. And he interrupted me, and said, “I’m really proud of you.”

    I asked him for what, and he told me that for many, many years, I wouldn’t name that loss out loud. Would reference it, but never state it, clearly, as fact. And that he was proud of me for having healed enough to do that one thing — that one, simple thing. To name the loss. Say the words out loud.

    And that was it. We moved on. But I can’t tell you how loved that one little observation made me feel.

    It’s a remarkable thing, to be met where you live. Wherever that is. In grief, in loss, in recovery, in healing … being met in those places, witnessed and loved, is exactly what you said it is: vast, powerful, and vibrant. It’s precious. And it heals you.

    My thoughts are with your family.

    *b

  • So true. Last year, unfortunately, had many lessons in grief and helping others grieve. Forget the platitudes and just show up. Being there is really the most you can do.

    http://www.pampersandpinot.com

  • Powerful, beautiful words Adrienne. Thank you for this. You and Brian are in my thoughts and prayers as you grieve.
    Barnmaven recently posted..Puppies- headaches and mania- oh my!

  • this is all so true. I wish I had this when i had my miscarriages or when my FIL died or even recently when Cort’s grandpa died.

    And I agree with some other commenters…I hate when people say they know how I feel and then proceed to tell me all about them. most of the time, I love to listen and be a friend. But when it’s MY grief? Don’t make it about you, ya know?

    And with that? I have been thinking about your family lots.
    Katie recently posted..tiny reminder

  • Sending you lots of love. beautiful & VERY true post. My heart is with you ♥
    Devan @ Unspoken Grief™ recently posted..I’m Pregnant &amp My Friend Is Not Anymore

  • Have you ever visited a blog for the first time and wondered where in the world that blogger has been all of your life and how you could have been missing her writing all this time? I wondered that through every word of this post. I lost my daughter 3 years ago and the loneliness of grief and loss as others try to fumble around you or, worse, pretend it never happened, can be so isolating. I can’t thank you enough for this piece and look forward to reading much more from you.
    Jessica recently posted..Why Flash Mobs Make Me Cry

  • I just found this post and therefore your blog from Jessica at Four Plus an Angel. So much of what you write about grief and people’s response to it speaks to me. I lost my son back in August 2010 at 36 weeks pregnant.

    While most of my friends were very helpful and supportive, a few were visibly absent. One of my best friends was the “subject changer” every time I wanted to talk about my son. Whenever she saw my tears she quickly changed the subject. But I didn’t want her to do that. I wanted to talk about it. Trying to change the subject back was like pulling teeth so eventually I stopped.

    One day I ran into someone I know at the grocery store and the look on her face was one of terror. She was going to have to talk to me and she didn’t know what to say. I could see the fear in here eyes as they darted from side to side looking for an escape. It hurt a lot, but I let her off the hook by telling her I had to go because I was in a hurry. I tried not to see the relief on her face, but I saw it.

    The worst thing though was at Christmas. We usually get tons of cards from our friends and family. I treasure these cards because I live in a different country than my family and my old friends. This Christmas we hardly got any cards. So either most of our friends got really lazy and opted not to send cards, or we were just not included on their lists this year. Maybe they were afraid to send them? I’m not sure, but it really hurt. I am trying to understand and forgive them, but it’s not easy.

    Anyway, I wanted to say that I am touched by your blog and the brave way you write about the things going on in your life. I am your newest follower.
    Finding My New Normal recently posted..Sometimes You Just Need a Good Cry

  • Anonymous

    Visiting from Four plus an Angel and I agree with Jessica on this post. Every word was wise, yet I wish you didn’t have to know all this. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

  • This is so well written and so true to my experience.

    I just wrote a long rant about my inability to accept advice gracefully [although I was talking about parenting advice from parents of 'normal' kids]. But I guess this kind of advice is in a different category — this is the kind worth filing away for later.

    I’m so sorry that you have earned the equivalent of an advanced degree (a black belt?) in grief. Thank you for putting your hard-earned wisdom to good use.

    Just found your blog, and I love it.
    Sarah recently posted..Why don’t you just…

  • I’ve struggled with this very issue lately – you’ve nailed it perfectly.

  • [...] take a few minutes to visit Adrienne and read this beautiful post on finding faith again or this excellent post on supporting a loved one through grief or, just block off your whole weekend and read everything [...]

  • pete

    I wish to shake your hand for this advice. many thanks

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