Let me just start out by saying that this post is not a criticism. People around me have been amazingly supportive to me in this grief. But what better time to talk about this then when I am in the midst of my own grief?
Because I’ve been there too — I don’t know what to say when a friend tells me they might have cancer; or a friend loses her firstborn baby at 36 weeks pregnant; or a friend’s marriage is on the rocks. The truth is, we don’t need to say anything. We have to start out by saying we don’t know what to say. There is nothing we can say.
Because these struggles ARE too big for us. That is one thing I have returned to again and again in this process. Its too big for me; too big for my husband; its too much. We aren’t supposed to be able to handle it. That is what community is for.
But sometimes we as a community would prefer to keep our distance from each other’s sufferings. I know, I feel that temptation too. There’s enough trouble in my own life; or when there’s not — when I’m getting a break from difficulty, the last thing I want to do is run into someone else’s problems, especially when there is even LESS I can do to help then if it were my own problem!
So, what do we do? When we don’t have any words and there is little that we can do?
My response to that is be present. Grief doesn’t need words. It needs a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.
Be present. Be around. Be available. To listen or just be quiet. To clean the house because there are no words and it hurts too much to sit still; or to take a walk; or to eat a meal. Just be present. That is the best comfort you can offer a friend in grief.
That is hard on so many levels: not only is it hard to be available and present around grief because it is uncomfortable and hurts to feel so helpless to help someone you care about; but it is hard because we are always so very busy. I understand that one too. I’m constantly running up against the limitations of my schedule. But schedules can change; appointments can be rescheduled. If you want to know how to be a good friend to someone in grief, make a point to be around.
And yes, your friend may think they don’t want you around. Its been hard for me – I feel like I need to make conversation, or be “normal” around people, even though my heart is heavy with sadness. I don’t want to be a burden to others. But its those people who have been most present that I’ve been able to move past feeling awkward and started to actually feel what I’m feeling with them around to listen and be present with me in it.
So, my suggestion is — don’t always take your cues from the person suffering. Show up and be available and around. They may not even recognize their need to be near to someone else but they will come around eventually and they will be grateful you are there.
I conclude: I speak these things not from judgment but because I want to be able to go back later and be reminded of what I needed most so that I can help others in their time of need in the future.
Thank you to all who have loved and cared for me and my family during this time. We couldn’t do this without you. ~Cynthe