Almost 11 months of walking with grieve beside me. I'd like to say it all gets easier, but it doesn't. Sometimes I find myself surprised by how an emotion from the day she was here will hit me and I’ll experience it all over again like it was new. But with time you learn the way grief walks beside you, and you understand how to navigate the onset of emotions more. The more you live with something the more know how to live with it. There are many moments I have where I wish so deeply that someone would just understand it all. I think I would say that's the second hardest part about grieve. #1 Losing the person you love, #2 Living with emotions that most people will never understand. I came to a place personally where it finally sank in that it's not my job to make people understand, as much as you wish you could. It's simply my job to walk through it and to do my best navigating each day. This is your life, your story, your walk. Not theirs. It's so easy to want to just showcase all the hard parts so that there would be a small glimpse into what you're facing but I want to remind you -- it's yours, not theirs. And as much as you may try to express what it's like to walk through this, unless they have walked the same road, then they won't get it. Once you can grasp that I think the hold and expectations on people can loosen. The majority of people find death extremely uncomfortable. If you've lost someone close, then you already know this. How to manage death, it's something so common but so unspoken, and that's why so many people can't ever acknowledge or are at a loss with "what to say". If we were taught basic communication skills with real life circumstances good and bad I feel we'd be surrounded better in times like this. That's why I've chose to write about it so much. Hoping to surface more conversations. I had always heard about how you can lose friends while you're experiencing grieve and trauma but never quite understood why until it was me. There have been a lot of things that I never understood until it was me, and in the last 10 months I've had other grieving mother's reach out to me with so many of the same questions, emotions, and difficulties. By being open with the honesty of my story I know first hand that it's connected with other women like me and through the connections I've discovered that in fact I'm not crazy! Grieve can make you feel absolutely insane some days. But the truth of the matter is that when you lose someone so close and dear to you it changes everything and in the midst of the sadness and anger you have to navigate a million other emotions -- enter feeling crazy. Hearing other's stories can not only help you to feel ok and on track with what you're facing, but it can help you to feel a little bit less alone. I wanted to write this blog post for anyone walking through grieve who needs some reassurance of emotions and feelings they're facing or for anyone walking alongside someone who's grieving who wants better understanding and insight into what their friend is going through.
So what does “showing up” for someone who is grieving look like?
Get your eyes off yourself.
It's so easy for us to make things about ourselves, even with a good heart and good intentions! Leave the worry of what to say at home and focus on why it is you’re even worried — because someone you love has lost someone very precious to them. Focus on that alone. There are no magic words, they just need someone who truly cares. The best way to do that is to stop thinking about what “I” can say, and what “I” can do, and focus on the hurting heart of your loved one.
There are no answers, and no fixes.
There's nothing that can bring back the person they love. There are no new perspectives or advice you can offer that will make it ok, so don’t get consumed with trying to make it better. The person grieving is not looking for a fix or an answer, but for someone to be present with them in their pain.
Be a listener not a talker.
Awkward silence is better than filling the air with meaningless conversation. Especially in the first few months, it's like there's a fog hanging over you when you lose someone and it makes it extremely difficult to participate in somewhat "normal" conversations. As the griever it can be very difficult letting people into your grief because there can be a lot of uncomfortable moments of silence and tears and the last thing you want is for your support person to be trying to fill the silence and make things feel comfortable again. Discomfort is a part of grief... which me leads to...
Be ok with feeling uncomfortable.
The more you immerse yourself in the uncomfortable situations of just being present through tears, of not having things to say, of communicating things that are difficult -- then the more comfortable you'll become in discomfort. Grief makes your life really uncomfortable, so enter into the discomfort with them.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the loved one or talk about memories you have of them.
Hearing their name is so important. I love talking about Sage. So often people shy away from bringing up the person who has passed away in fear that it will create sadness, but the truth of the matter is that losing someone is sad. Period. And there isn't a day that goes by that the griever isn't thinking about who they lost and their love for them. Moments where my friends/family have asked specific questions about Sage and what she was like, or brought up memories of her have been moments that fill my heart.
A hug goes a long way.
Acknowledging loss can feel so uncomfortable for so many people. But can I just tell you that acknowledging the loss is so important and a simple hug and "I'm so sorry" goes a really long way, no matter the time in between.
Eye contact goes a long way too.
I've had many moments where I've been asked by strangers or acquaintances if I have kids. And I tell them about Sage, how I have a daughter but that she passed away. Usually the conversation is quickly shut down and I lose eye contact with the person because they're shocked by my answer and don't know what to do. But in the moments where someone chooses to stay connected and looks back at me to listen... those moments mean a lot. Be present through eye contact.
Be aware of the long process that grief is and have patience as they walk through it.
Grieving is life long. I will be grieving Sage until that shining moment in heaven when she’s in my arms again. We’re almost approaching her first birthday and in some ways I thought I’d feel better than I do now. But the other day as I sat across from my counsellor she looked at me and said “Hunny I’m sorry to tell you this but sometimes year 2 is even harder, because year one you’re still in shock and year 2 it really sets in.” It was a reminder that taking as much time as you possibly need is ok. You need time to be sad, time to be angry, time to question, time to process. There is no race against time. So be patient with whoever you know that’s walking through loss because even now as I sit here typing, I think how on earth one year could possibly be approaching with how broken I feel.
Be aware of the raw state they’re in and how deeply simple things can affect them.
You are the most raw and vulnerable you’ve ever been when you lose someone. Everything is extremely sensitive, especially in the first months. I remember a few months after losing Sage having moments where I’d be in a room and someone would say something negative and it would rip the rug from under my feet. Every moment was so precious and having the moment “tarnished” in a way from negativity would really affect my mental state. It’s like every minute you’re grasping to experience joy but not everyone is aware of that.
Long distance, close, it doesn’t matter — there are always ways to be present. Whether that means through random texts and calls, by sending flowers as a reminder you care or by popping over to look at photos or with a movie and snacks. It's very easy to think people have forgotten or have moved on when your life feels like it's at a stand still, so try to make yourself present in their life.
Be ok with no responses from time to time.
Still to this day I get overwhelmed when I'm asked "How are you?". I love and appreciate being asked but it can feel hard to answer because there are so many emotions that shift so often. Within the first few days that we lost Sage, Ryan and I recieved huge amounts of messages and love, and it was almost impossible to respond to everyone. I'm sure there are many messages I haven't replied to -- but know that when you don't recieve a response that doesn't mean stop reaching out because the person didn't appreciate you reaching out. A lot of times I get messages that leave me in tears and I simply don't have the energy to respond in the moment. So believe the best in them as they walk through a really difficult time.
Don't be afraid to tell them you don't know what to do.
Saying something is so much better than saying nothing. If you're at an absolute loss of what to do or say, communicate that. Don't put the pressure on them to come up with what you can do for them because that puts something in their hands that they don't need to carry. BUT by telling them "I love you I wish I knew what to do and say I'm so sorry" -- that's ok too!
Crying is ok.
If you say something and it causes the person to cry, that’s ok! It's a release. Don’t apologize when someone grieving starts crying when you say something. Grieve is sad through and through. There are so many tears I still have to give and every one of them is precious to me because they are tears over my love for my daughter. So when you act as though tears are a bad thing to bring up it can dismiss the important emotions that are NEEDED to be released.
Bringing up or comparing to others loses isn’t always helpful.
We all do it — we want to connect the dots in some ways so we’ll bring up a tragedy we know of or a similar loss to try and bridge a gap. But it can often feel diminishing to the griever’s loss when time is spent talking about the heartache of someone else's loss. Drawing too much attention to how awful someone else’s pain is can feel as though your unaware we're walking through the pain too.
Remember significant dates.
Use your phone’s calendar and mark off dates that you know will be difficult for your friend to walk through. Birthday’s, holidays, etc. Those kinds of days hit you like a tonne of bricks so feeling an extra sense of care can be really comforting.
If someone grieving chooses to share it with you, don’t take it lightly.
When you lose someone you love, there are also secondary losses that come with it. Loss of identity, loss of your sense of security, loss of trust in people, loss of future dreams, the list goes on. Trust is a really difficult one to navigate. All of these emotions I experience through grief are what connect me to Sage, so sharing them is not something I take lightly. It can feel really scary sharing them with somebody because of how sacred they are. So since sharing your grief with someone creates such vulnerability, it then makes it difficult to maintain trust with someone if after you open up to them, their actions don’t align with what support means to you.
That last point is a huge reason I share as much as I do and try to communicate all the details of grieve from a grievers perspective. So many people become a deer in headlights when tragedy strikes on someone they love. And it’s not easy to communicate what you need from people when you’re in the midst of such heartache. I hope this helps someone in someway, and I’ll probably continue to add to it as time goes on because it seems like I learn something new about this walk everyday.