Listening in grief
This new year brings something unexpected to a few of my friends, learning how to maneuver the firsts. Like so many people around the world, we have lost people. My friend recently lost her brother over an extended illness, while another friend lost her husband over a short one. Their level of grief is something I can’t begin to fathom. Even though we lost the same people, I can’t compare our experiences. Their futures have changed and family dynamics altered, creating a vast emptiness.
These holes can be profound and can’t always be filled by good wishes, prayers or time. I’m not saying that other people’s good intentions aren’t wanted, but sometimes we all need to listen to someone else’s sorrow, especially while maneuvering through the first holidays alone.
With the bustling of my family activities, I need to make sure that I remain available for my friends.
I reached out to another friend in a different grieving stage and asked if people could have done anything differently to help her maneuver her new life. She assured me she appreciated every interaction and there is no ill will to anyone who has reached out to her. She also mentioned that as well-intentioned as the statements can be, telling a grieving widow that “time heals,” or “it was for the best,” and even “you’re so strong” may not be helpful.
It always makes her feel like her loss is insignificant when it’s genuinely catastrophic. It made her grief into weakness rather than a strength. One thing death takes away is the hope of a different outcome.
The first time doing something without a loved one can be a struggle. I don’t think most people prepare for death. We may think we do this by making arrangements, preparing financials or expressing our final wishes. There is no list to help the people left behind to cope with the loss. There is no right amount of time to finish grieving.
I will be checking in with my friends long after the arrangements, the service and the casseroles are finished. I hope to be a good listener. I want to help, not just ask what I can do to help.
I want to encourage my friends to continue walking slowly toward healing. As we all move through these celebratory times, please check on friends and family who may be struggling to communicate their losses. Be safe!