I’ve never had this kind of grief before, so I myself have had no idea what to say to people who are grieving. For example, I once went to the wake of a young woman who had died of cancer and told her husband quietly, “She was really great.” Didn’t even know her that well- so yeah, that was awkward. So…you see, you may not have been where I am, but I have been where you are, so I understand.
But now I find myself in the lonely position of being the woman no one knows what to say to.
But perhaps from this unique universe I find myself in, I can share the landscape with those still on familiar territory. Like a cosmic cartographer, I can draw a little map.
First a few things not to say to a grieving person:
How are you?
Hang in there.
Hope you’re having a good day.
Time will heal.
He is still with you.
He is smiling down on you.
In Audrey (substitute child’s name), you have Dan.
I didn’t really know Dan at all, but he seemed like a nice guy.
Did you want another baby?
Could he swim?
All pretty bad things to say, but hey, it’s OK if you said them. As Dan would always say to me, “My intentions were good.” And intentions are felt and count.
So, what can you say? Not much I think. Listening’s good. At least for me- I process by talking and writing. Saying you have no words to say. That’s a good one along the same lines. You can laugh when something is funny- there’s been a lot of dark humor happening here lately. But laughing too much is a no no- or if it’s a joke I’m not in on, or just not funny.
Visitors are welcome. Probably just at 30 minute increments though if they’re just here to sit and talk. Visitors who want to take my daughter out for a bit are very welcome. I am just not up to going out that much yet and feel physically exhausted most of the time. If you call and say how about next Thursday- I will sound confused. I don’t know what day it is yet, and only live moment to moment. Next Thursday doesn’t exist for me yet.
Of course as the grieving process takes its twists and turns- different things work. In the first few days, those who held me and cried with me were most comforting. Those who marched right in, cleaned out the fridge, brought me food, bathed my daughter, and slept by my side. The friend who told me if ever there was a time in life when I get a free pass, or could say whatever I wished- this was it. The widow who called and told me as long as Audrey and I are fed and well, there is no right or wrong way to do this.
The most helpful things now have been people who take my daughter for the morning and email me to tell me she’s having a wonderful time and dancing. A friend who brings a bag of new toys to swap out for Audrey every few days. A neighbor who sleeps over and listens to me process and process and then invites us down for breakfast the next morning. Grandma and grandpa making Audrey giggle. A woman who came and counted and organized the checks I’ve received, filling out the deposit slips so I can go to the bank and pay the funeral bills. Oh and yes, the church family who has bringing me meals every other day or so. That is invaluable as I can’t even imagine going to the grocery store or cooking a meal from scratch.
Since every grief is so singular and particular to each relationship- grieving is lonely more than anything else. It’s also work- so it’s tiring.
I hope people know this post was written genuinely but also with a bit of humor- I am so incredibly grateful for every soul who has bravely reached out to me in any way. If the situation was reversed, I’m not sure I would be as brave.