Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts. ~Author Unknown
I’ve been thinking about all of the different ways I have been comforted over the past eight months since my son, Stephen, died. I have been blessed, and surrounded by so many people who envelope me with love and protect my healing heart. Every day, I am reminded that I am not alone. And, with each reminder, I feel Stephen’s love. It is as if his essence was dispersed across the globe, and different people give me a little piece of him when I need it the most.
That being said, I wanted to share my top ten list of simple things that you can do if you are comforting someone who is grieving. Based on my own experience, these are the things that have helped me the most. I will approach the list like Letterman and start at #10, but unfortunately, I have no drum roll. So, as you read each one, tap on your desk and make your own.
10. Understand the Power of a Handwritten Note:
I blogged about this a couple of months ago, titled The Power of a Greeting Card for a Healing Heart
. There is something about seeing some one’s cursive writing in ink on paper, sent via snail mail. It says, “You matter enough and are worth the extra effort.” I have been deeply touched by emails, even text messages. But a handwritten note is a tangible piece of comfort.
9. Validation is not just for Parking Passes: When someone hurts from the pain of grief, they need to feel that the pain is being validated, recognized. For me, I needed to feel that Stephen’s life had impacted others as much as it had changed me. It was so important for me to hear from others, who validated my feelings of loss, shared their own, and in so many words, told me “Yes, he was as special as you thought he was.” If you are comforting someone, don’t hold back. Tell them how this person impacted your life.
8. Don’t Wait for an Invitation to Help: I’ve written about the early days, and how I had this pair of lead boots, a lead sweater, and rocks in my pocket. It was physically difficult to move because of the pain. The heartache, the hurt, it had taken its toll. But I was blessed, because I had these friends, neighbors and family who simply showed up. They did not wait for an invitation, or a request for help. They just rang the doorbell and handed me a casserole dish, or flowers, or a card, or gave me a hug. If you know someone who is hurting, jump in, ring the doorbell and let them know they are not alone.
7. Check in With Them on Key Dates and Occasions: Christmas, Valentines, Birthdays and so many more. Key dates serve as milestones for people who are grieving. I call it the year of “firsts.” The milestones of time that serve as further confirmation of the finality of death, in a physical sense. I can’t sugar coat it, they are not easy. On December 26th, I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling thinking, “whew, thank God we made it through that one…” Check in on key occasions and milestones and recognize them. Understand, especially in the year of “firsts”, these days can be so lonely and painful.
6. Lasting Memorials:
Memories endure, but the details fade with time. The impact of a life can be articulated clearly in the immediate days and weeks following the death of someone special. But then ten years passes, and people move on, and stop talking about them, and you are left to remember their spirit quietly within your own family circle. I know this because I have grieved the loss of my parents, and understand the passage of time changes things. That is why lasting memorials mean so much. For me, I was humbled by how Stephen was remembered. NC State Hockey retired his jersey
in November, and the team and the Carolina Hurricanes changed the name of a yearly tournament from the Canes Cup to the Stephen Russell Memorial Tournament
. And, in a sense, my book is a lasting memorial to his life. But, no matter how you do it, a lasting memorial can be such a source of comfort for those who grieve. It serves as a confirmation of their contribution to the community, what they loved, who they were. Think about ways to create lasting memorials. Scholarships, donations, writing. A life lived is one worth remembering.
5. Don’t be Afraid to be Honest With Them if They Need Some Extra Help:
There are so many terrific resources that help people every single day with their journey through grief. If you feel your friend or family member needs some extra support, don’t be afraid, to make the suggestion. Encourage participation in groups such as The Compassionate Friends
, and Open to Hope Foundation.
And, if needed, suggest they find a “Grief Lady”
of their very own. Sometimes the perspective and wisdom of a professional can make all the difference in processing the painful emotions of loss.
4. Invisibility is for the Movies, Not Grief: Okay, I must stand on my soapbox for a minute. Because this one really affected me in my own personal journey. Two things happened with regards to “invisibility.” First, some people could not face me. So, they didn’t. They ran for the hills. They did not know what to say, so it was best to stay away. I understand, it is hard. But I am still here, and I still need you as a friend. More so now than ever. Second, some people abruptly, just stopped talking about Stephen, like he had never even existed. We would be having this conversation, and it was obvious that they were fumbling over their words, trying to find a way to talk to me without mentioning the fact that I ever had a son named Stephen. News Flash: I already know. I need you to feel comfortable talking about him, because he is still my son and I am still his mother. Trust me, it hurts more when you avoid the subject and don’t recognize that he is part of who I am…he may be in heaven, but he is still part of me. If you are comforting someone, please recognize the person that died, and the loved ones left behind.
3. Understand That Loss and Grief Continues After The Funeral: The casserole dishes have been returned, the flowers have wilted, and life’s routines have resumed. Work, parenting, chores, fun, all seems normal right? But the hurt continues, privately and quietly. As I mentioned, those special days can trigger a pain that returns you to the early days of loss. Remember this as you comfort someone. They may look fine, laugh, and be on time for that meeting. But within their chest, sits a broken heart that is still mending. Be mindful of that fact, and be the kind of person that treats them with extra care as they heal.
2. Talk Less, Listen More: When something bad happens to someone you care about, you want to find the perfect words of comfort to make it all better right? But, the truth is, there are no words that will make this better. Your words of love and support can comfort, and ease the pain, but no words will be able to take it away. I see grief as a journey, and with each painful step, the load lessens, as if you were dropping pebbles from your pocket on each bend in the trail. So, don’t get caught up with trying to find the right words. Keep it simple. Say things like, “I’m so sorry, I’m here for you.” or “If you need to just talk, I am a phone call away.” As the saying goes, you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak. Because when you grieve, you need to talk through the feelings. Be there to listen, and stop worrying about the right words.
1. Love, Love, Love: I wrote my book on gratitude because people loved me. I made a choice to find the good in the worst of situations. And do you know what I found? When I looked for the good, I found it all around me. By opening my heart to it, I was able to let it in my life. People, in simple and quiet ways, loved me. Some knew me, and some were strangers. But they just loved me. They showed me that there is more good in this world than bad, no matter what the evening news tells you. And the more love I let into my life, the closer I felt to Stephen’s spirit. If someone you know is hurting, give them a little taste of love today. Show them that love is all around them, and make them feel less alone on their grief journey.
Today, I am thankful for all the people in my life that showed me comfort in all the right ways and who loved me harder than I thought possible. They showed me that life is still beautiful, even in loss.
I like your top ten list. I agree with all of it. unfortunately it hasn’t worked that well for me. I’m 800 miles away from my family. No one that lives here knew my sister. My work didn’t validate my grief very well at all. it’s been difficult to say the least. march 18th was the six month anniversary of her death.
Another thing I’ve learned is how people don’t and try to steer clear of me. My sister was murdered. I think that frightens people that know me. If it can happen to my family, it can happen to their family, that kind of thing.
The most healing thing I’ve done is write to my sister everyday. I know she can’t respond, i know i can’t hit the send button, but just writing to her helps me so very much. it keeps her alive in me.
I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I am glad you had the support you have. Bless you and those that are there for you.
Hi Shirley D.
I’m so sorry for what you have been through. I’m an author here and I was just perusing the site, reading articles. Reading your words – said so simply – gave me a glimpse into a heart that’s been broken. Please know I’m here if you ever need someone to reach out to. I have a site you can visit too – there is a short book on there that talks about the physical impact of grief and bereavement. Please take a peek for you. (((Sending you a big virtual hug and a prayer for peace)))) Janice http://www.janiceervin.com
One of the best articles I’ve read on supporting those we love in their time of grief. I’m passing this along to people I know that want to support me.
My heart goes out to you over the death of your son and am very grateful you took the time to write this list. It is really wonderful and I am sure will help many.
We are so afraid of the hard, the sad, the messiness of life that we miss out on opportunities to truly connect when it really matters. There is nothing more important than being there for a loved one who has suffered a loss.
Best wishes and thank you,
Founder and Team Leader
New England Pet Hospice