Responding to Grief

~ I'm thinking of you ~

~ I’m thinking of you ~

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.

Asking Questions

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’ or ‘I’m lost for words’ moment, any 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.

Accept Me

It’s hard enough to BE sad and depressed, trust me. I’m learning to accept being what I am in 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 humor. Just accept me as I am.

Be With Me

There doesn’t need to be much talking, just even the knowing 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 honor 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 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

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 question, it will never ever apply.

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9 comments

  1. I’m planning to share this with others. Very well said. Next week it will be one year since my 23 year old son was killed and a number of people already seem to be confused as to why I’m not “over it” and cheerful again. They have no idea how profound and constant the pain of losing a child is.

    1. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son.
      Thank you for your comment and please do share it with others. As a society we are not well equipped with dealing with grief and I would love to know that more people get to understand it without having to have experienced it. All the best, Nathalie

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