When I was in my twenties, I used to panic anytime someone was grieving. I didn’t know what to do to make it better. I knew that there had to be something I could do – if only I could figure out what it was. But I didn’t know, and this made me bad at helping, bad at being a good friend. I didn’t know what to do and so all I wanted to do was to run away so that I wouldn’t feel so incompetent anymore and so perhaps my friend would be able to find someone more capable of helping.
In my thirties, I came to understand that there are some things that cannot be fixed, cannot be undone, cannot be ameliorated. I began to accept that some things just were and that grieving was the process of coming to terms with and accepting that fact. When I understood this, then I began to understand that there was nothing I could do to help the person who was grieving except to provide them with whatever they needed to get to this place of acceptance. I realized that it wasn’t about me – it was about them. And sometimes there was nothing to be done except to be present and to witness the pain.
Now, at the opening of my forties, I am experiencing real grief for the first time in my life. I thought I had felt it in my divorce, but with it being my choice to leave the relationship, I didn’t get the full force of it. Now, upon the sudden death of my mother, I begin to grok the fullest extent of the feeling. And what I realize is this: no one can help me. This is a road that I walk alone. I must walk through the pain and the loss on my own – no one can walk the road for me. As much as others can be there to provide support and love and some small measure of comfort, there is no one who can truly lessen the load. But the witnessing and the touches and the statements of support provide pinpoints of light along the path. It’s amazing how much a simple comment from someone that says that, even a month after my mother has passed, they are still thinking of me and sending me love helps.
Because experiencing the death of a loved one isn’t an event – it’s a voyage. It’s a journey through pain, wistfulness, nostalgia, need, neediness, desolation, depression, anger, betrayal, sweetness, joy, poignancy, life, rebirth, questioning, reevaluation, hopelessness, confusion, tears, determination, edurance and more. The full spectrum of life’s emotions ebb and flow through my experience. I am more aware of my life and the need to make more of it. I am keenly conscious of my own mortality and questioning of my choices of what I do with my time between now and then. This grieving is as much a blessing as a curse and I am grateful to have the human and monetary resources to explore it fully.
And so I offer a thought to those who are as I was – fearful and feeling completely inadequate to the task of supporting those in grief. Here is what you can do: be present. The gift of your awareness of my pain is sufficient. It is enough. Do not ask for a response because it is likely that you will not get one. I cannot take care of you and of myself at the same time. But your comments are heard and felt and apprecitated. They matter – even if I don’t say so. Put me on your calendar to reach out to or drop me a note on my Facebook or in email to say you’ve been thinking about me. Offer help even though there is nothing you can think of to do. The offer alone is enough to make me feel seen and heard in my pain (or joy or loneliness or wherever I am today). I may take you up on it – I may not. But you are helping.