We recently experienced another loss in our family—this time it was a beloved pet, Miss Murphy, who was a constant loving companion for my brother and sister-in-law. As I wrestled with what to say to them, it got me to thinking that this is something we all struggle with when we face loss in our lives.
This may be the hardest time to know what to say. What can you say that doesn’t feel inadequate or awkward? That person you know, who may be someone you care for, is hurting, grieving and feeling a loss so deeply that their heart feels like it’s breaking.
I’ve been in those shoes. My first loss at age 13, of a beautiful woman who helped to take care of me—my great aunt. Another loss at age 19, of an aunt who succumbed to kidney failure while I was caring for her. My mother-in-law. My mother, my best friend. My father—I was his “little girl”. A dear friend who was like a brother to me. Two of my three brothers, just three months apart. Then there were my beloved pets over the years: Maia, Sarah, Bernhardt, Magellan, McGuyver, Kismet and Harley.
What could anyone say to ease the pain? Nothing.
And then, there were those times when I was on the outside looking in as the hearts of friends and family were breaking at the loss of their husband, son, mother, father, sibling and family pets.
I’m sorry and sad for your loss. My heart breaks for you. I wish I could take the pain away and fill that hole in your heart. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Beautiful words and sentiments, which people appreciate, yet it often feels so inadequate as they come out of my mouth.
From my perspective, it’s not so much what I can say when someone dies, but what I can do. There are a few things that seem to help—them AND me.
What does that mean? For me, it means to listen, and allow them to talk—or not. It means to come from a grounded place, so I can be steady as they lean on me, literally and figuratively. It means to allow their feelings to flow from grief to anger and back, without judgment, so they can face their emotions. It means knowing when they need a break to crawl in and be quiet. It especially means knowing, deep within, that this is not about me.
My intention is to help them feel safe to share the emotions as they ebb and flow, to know that I can be there for them in whatever way they need.
Everyone grieves in different ways and it takes whatever time it takes for them. We can show compassion for their process.
There are some behaviors that seem to help, where their opposites can shut things down for the griever. Being supportive, while not being a “fixer.” Allowing the feelings to flow naturally, and jump around if necessary, while not telling them how they should feel. Asking what they feel like doing, without directing their activity. Recognizing the great loss, without minimizing it. Allowing them the time they need to grieve fully, without dictating how long that should take.
Remind Them That You Care
In my experience with loss, I heard from people when it first happened, and then they go away—as if they don’t care. I think this is often how people react, myself included sometimes, when they don’t think there is anything to do or say, so they do and say nothing.
I like sending cards or text messages, with thoughtful sentiments. This might be once a week for a month after the loss, so they are reminded that I’m here for them, for whatever they need. At the very least, they know I remember that they are in pain. I do care.
I’m here for you. Sending my love and hugs to circle around you today and bring you comfort. I continue to hold you in my prayers for your comfort during this time of deep loss. Let me know when you’re ready for some company and I’ll be there.
Every circumstance is different. It depends upon the relationship you have with the person who lost someone. It also depends on what you can do for them. There are always the offers to make meals, pick up groceries, and shuttle the kids. Freeing up the griever so s/he has time to grieve is a wonderful thing, if that’s what they need.
Sometimes, staying busy with their day-to-day life is just what they feel they need.
Honoring that is the best thing.
If you have found meaningful words or things to do for family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, please share with us. We all could benefit from new ideas at these sad times in life.
In honor of Miss Murphy …