E. A. Bucchianere
This is difficult to write because I would like to ignore the feelings I have but that doesn't make them go away, unfortunately. The last several months have been immensely hard for several people close to me, as a result of the death of a beloved person or animal. I remind myself that it didn't happen "directly" to me and it is my wish and obligation to be available and understanding to these people I care for.
Easier said than done I am finding. Other than the usual condolences in words and actions we are often at a loss. Our grieving friend or family member is not giving us very many clues as to what they might need from us. It's a difficult balance and I remain fearful of doing too much, too little or the absolute wrong thing. I speak from experience, as I have done all the above recently. Of course, with the best of intentions, but it's a tough call. Everyone is different in how they grieve, what they need (or not). They may not be acting like the person you knew before their life was upended. They don't know how they will be feeling or what they may need from moment to moment so how can they let you know. And once you go about guessing or doing what you imagine you might like in their position you may get it all wrong.
Bumbling through this process, thus far, I have learned:
1. From what I've read the "Stages of Grief" appears to be debunked in many ways, surprisingly led by the person who came up with the theory originally. The consensus seems to be that grief does share common themes but it is not "one size fits all". It is unpredictable, random and highly personal.
2. Emotional numbness, irritation, anger, depression, oppositional behaviors, health issues etc. can all part of the grieving person's process...DO NOT take it personally or think you can fix it. No matter how much you may want to be a part of it, it is their personal journey and you are in a support position.
3. Ideally listening should comprise 80% of what you do during this time and at times another 20%. Advice is not what they are usually looking for but a listening ear, a soft shoulder, an open heart and your presence when they desire it. My sister gave me some good advice saying, " It's all about them right now, it is not about you." When possible giving them healthy distractions may be helpful....a walk, a home cooked meal, a game, a movie, whatever will give them a break from the stress of grieving and remind them that there is still goodness and light in the world. Help them make good choices if they will allow it.
4. NO cliche' remarks like...."They lived a good life." "Move on." "Time heals all wounds." There are a million of them! Time is a great healer but it has no timetable and this loss will remain with them on some level always.
5. Do not expect the grieving person to relate to you in the ways you are accustomed to. They will not be their same sparkling self, they will engage in fuzzy thinking, numbed emotions and uncharacteristic ways of acting. You may feel shut out of the process or they may become needy, cranky and difficult to get along with. They may pick fights over small issues, push you away, engage in destructive behaviors or retreat from you altogether. Allowing you close may look to them as another opportunity to be hurt in the future.
6. Stay calm and patient. Necessary, but challenging, as you are hurting for them and this may also be a loss for you, just not of the same magnitude as they are experiencing. Supporting a loved one through this is draining for you and you are probably not receiving much in return. They are struggling through each day coping with their sorrow and loss and have little or nothing to give back.
7. Take care of yourself, whatever that means for you. Giving yourself a break from them, putting yourself in the presence of more joyful people, exercising, meditating, reading. Use anything you know that will bolster your mental and physical health. Your ability to care for them is dependent on being your best self which relates to how much you are capable of giving, understanding and being patient.
8. In most cases this particular state will not last forever, although, they will be forever changed by this loss. They will laugh again, be able to love again, be present again.....but on their own timetable NOT yours.
8. As often as I beat myself up about fumbling through this it's important to give ourselves a break. You do your best even though it may not be right, or perfect or it could be just plain wrong. What worked for one person in the past may be the entirely wrong approach with another. Being mindful as you implement the trial and error method is about the best one can do.
9. If being supportive is causing you too much pain or if they cross over to being abusive you can draw a line. Remove yourself if you have to, suggest counseling or get some yourself. Let them know you will be there for them when they can, at the very least, treat you respectfully.
10. This will happen to all of us at some time, either personally or once removed. It is the natural way of life, the coin with the sides "joy and sorrow".
"You can't rush grief. It has its own timetable. All you can do is make sure there are lots of soft places around...beds, pillows, arms, laps."