I [couldn’t possibly] know exactly how you feel…

The facts are these:  I’m going through a season of grief.  This is not news. However, there are so many people who seem completely at a loss for what to say/do around me during this time, AND I’m in a unique position to be able to tell you what a person going through this might be feeling, so I thought I would develop a little semi-comprehensive list of the Do’s and Don’ts.  Sound fun? Delightful.

*Disclaimer* Everyone is different and experiences grief in a different way.  The following list is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease and should be taken at face value and exercised with caution.

In no particular order:
DO acknowledge the loss.  Especially in the first few days, it’s so hard to keep saying those words over and over. If you don’t say anything, is it ignorance or are you just trying to respect privacy? Effusiveness is not required (or appreciated, honestly), but a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” goes a long way.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions, but DON’T push.  If you’re interested in the details of my situation, I’m more than willing to tell you what happened, but I won’t be engaging in a post game play-by-play.  There are some people who don’t want to share at all, so tread lightly, and starting out with a blanket, “If you don’t want to talk about it, I completely understand,” is always nice.

DO offer to help, but be specific.  Few things are more daunting than a chorus of, “if you need anything, call me.” I’m sorry, but that Broken cardboard heart with staples isolated on white backgroundcall won’t come.  If you are serious about helping, offer something specific (Can I watch your kids while you make arrangements? Can I make calls for you? Can I clean your bathrooms?) Otherwise, you end up like my sainted friend, Carrie, who all but insisted that I give her something to do and wound up in my flowerbeds pulling weeds. An angel, that girl.

DON’T start any sentence with, “You should,” or “You need to,” or “You must be feeling.” You’re just trying to help, but leave it alone.

DO follow up. The first few days, or even weeks are a flurry of activity and it’s easy to hide in the logistics.  When the dust settles and everyone goes home and all that is left is a house that now seems entirely too big, the real pain starts.  That’s when your friendship is needed most. However…

DO call first.  You’re just checking in.  It’s very sweet and honestly so appreciated.  But entertaining is also taxing, so give a ring before you show up unexpectedly.  Otherwise you might stumble upon a truly world class meltdown, or a session of sobbing that makes middle school look like an exercise in puritanical stoicism.

DON’T expect comfort. This one’s harsh, and more than a little selfish.  You might be hurting too, but your hurting friend probably doesn’t have the strength to support you in your grief as well as bear the weight of their own.

DON’T be an Eeyore.  Put away your sad eyes and pitiful tone.  You cry, I cry, Jack.  Got it? Try to act as normal as possible, it really does help. Human beings are capable of amazing things and ought not be treated like porcelain dolls.  Along those same lines, DON’T keep asking how I am.  It’s a habit, or maybe a conditioned response, but honestly, how do you think I’m doing?  If you are really worried, ask someone who probably has insight on the matter.  They’ll be in a better place to field your questions.

DO be willing to listen, but DON’T judge.  You never know when a grieving person is going to want to talk, but if they do, just listen.  Recognize that one of the stages of grief is anger, though, and the words that come out of their mouth may not be all sunshine and roses.  Expect repetition and less than logical thought patterns.  Try to be patient and simply listen without trying to fix anything.

DO be okay with silence, too.  Sometimes people just need to know you’re there.

DON’T be surprised by a sudden change in priorities or new fixations.  In a life upended by turmoil, some things may seem incredibly important now that weren’t before and vice versa.  Unless it’s something dangerous (in which case, DO intervene immediately) just let it ride.  Everything will probably go back to normal in time.

Anyone have one to add or think I’m way off base?

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3 thoughts on “I [couldn’t possibly] know exactly how you feel…

  1. Do know that you crack me up and your candor is refreshing! Do know that I will not stop saying, I’m here for you because you know what my skills are and your bathroom ain’t one of them! Do know that I appreciate you!

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