Monday, August 28, 2017

Some Grief Guidance

So few people know how to grieve WITH people. And I'm no expert, but I have walked down the road myself a few times and wanted to share some thoughts. 

After we lost our 2 1/2 year old son there were things that were very helpful and things that were hurtful. Even though I knew people were just doing the best they could. So I thought I would try and get some thoughts out about some of these things for those of you who want to help friends who are grieving. 

Let me say-grief comes in all forms. Death of a loved one, loss of a marriage, loss of a house that carried all your life's memories. There is pain that must be walked though with all of these. If you want the short version of my advice-show up for these people and don't minimize their pain. If you keep those 2 things in mind, you will probably get it right. 

So here are some practicals that helped me. 

-Grieving people change their mind, a lot. Sometimes they want people around, sometimes they want everyone gone, and it can change throughout the day. There is no right or wrong way to do it. If you are close to the person who is grieving, help them figure out what they need (no small trick) and then take care of it for them. 

I remember being in the middle of a situation that I thought I wanted, and then going, "Oh no. Oh no. This is not want I wanted at all!" Having friends who understood this and helped us escape was amazing. 

-There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a very personal process and it's messy. There are stages, but they are not linear. They don't go in order and you can bounce back and forth depending on the day. 

Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance

I remember blogging and saying there was no checklist for grief. When I get stressed, checklists are totally my friend. I want to know that I'm doing it right, and I want to know how far in the process I am. When going through the most intense emotions of your life you want to know when it's going to end. It's suffocating, and the fact that no one can make that feeling end is super hopeless. It's the worst thing I have ever experienced. 

I can say this, that being 5 years out from losing our son, the feelings have changed. I'm not praying to survive another hour anymore like I did at the beginning. Or wondering how I'm going to make it through the day. I would say we have found acceptance, but there are still those moments of disbelief that everything we went through was real, and this is my life. 

-Show up
This is the most practical advice I can give. Show up for the person in the most tangible way you can think of. Groceries, meals, mowing the yard, cleaning the house, washing laundry, taking kids to school and activities, paying bills, helping with funeral arrangements, people to protect your space, bring things for the kids to do-movies, activities, games, bring things to remember the child-we had people make quilts out of Caleb's clothing, bears out of shirts, others who enlarged photos and framed them for the funeral but also for us to have, crafts for the younger kids to express their feelings, bring paper goods-plates, napkins, cups, plastic ware, toilet paper, paper towels. Not having to do the dishes is so helpful. 

When you aren't sure how you are going to survive the next hour, someone to take care of all of life's details is crucial. There is a fog that descends (which is a total blessing from God I believe. If we really understood and felt everything at the beginning I don't think we would survive) I don't remember much about the first few months, but we survived. But only because we had people helping to take care of us. 

-They are forever changed. Their lives will never be the same. For a long time they might not laugh, or care about the things they used to. But eventually, they will find their way back. Give them time and space. Please don't tell them that you wish they would get over it or that they would move on. I know it sounds crazy, but after 6 months some people believe you have grieved enough and it's unhealthy, or they are just trying to help you somehow. It's never helpful to say those things, ever. So please don't. Unless you can bring back what they lost, they are allowed to continue grieving. They will never go back to the person they were-because part of them is permanently gone. 

I did learn how to live with the loss. I did put on make up again. I did laugh again. I did care about little things again. But for each person that's different. They might want to leave the possessions right where they are for months, or even a year. It's ok. Let them. Eventually, somehow, they will figure out what to do with it all. Give them space and time. 

-Before you say anything to them, ask yourself if you are minimizing the pain or comparing the situation. So many times the trite things that we try and fill the quiet spaces with are so hurtful. For example, "they are in a better place" or "God works all things for His good" or "God only gives us what we can handle, you are so strong" While some of these things may be true, they are not in any way comforting for most people, especially right after the loss. I didn't care about "having a great testimony," I just wanted my boy back. 

Yes, heaven is infinitely better than this earth, but that doesn't ease the pain. I live here on earth and my baby never will again. No one can change that. No words can bring them back. If I'm going to have a revelation from God, or be comforted by scripture, it's going to have to come from Him pretty directly. So you can pray for that, but know that sometimes the most comforting saying or scripture for you might not comfort them in the same way. 

Some things that are good to say- 
I'm so sorry.
I'm not even sure what to say right now but please know that I love you, I hurt for you, and I'm sorry you are going through this. 
I can't imagine the pain you are feeling. My heart hurts for you.
Anything along those lines. Then try being quiet, or being a shoulder to cry on. Or maybe just walk away. If you aren't super close with the person they probably aren't going to open up and tell you all of their feelings. But saying something comforting is always helpful and nice for a grieving person to hear. 

The second part is comparing. Don't ever compare your loss. Even if it is the exact same kind of loss. (I won't even start about someone comparing losing a pet to you losing your child!!) While there may be similarities, and I did find it so helpful to talk to other parents who had lost children, no 2 situations are ever identical. The relationship you have with your lost one is unique and special. Be sensitive to this! I might say, "I've gone through something similar" but I try never to say "I know exactly how you feel." 

-They don't need to look at the bright side, or silver lining, or blessing that comes from their loss. They don't need to be thankful, they just need to grieve and mourn. There will be a time that they will begin to see the blessings, and the way God walked beside them, but let them start that conversation. 

Which is pretty much a good rule for grieving people in general. Let them determine the mood. If all they want to do is cry, just be a shoulder to lean on. If they want to talk, or reminisce, do that with them. If they want to pretend everything is fine for the night and go see a movie, that's ok too. Unless they are going to hurt them-self or others, they aren't wrong. 

-It's ok if they cry. Period. Forever. What you say doesn't make them cry. The sorrow over their loss, (and continued losses) the depth of love they have for that person, those are the things that make them cry. They are probably crying plenty in private. So if they want to cry in public, don't apologize or try and make them feel better, just let them talk-or just cry. And it's ok to cry with them, but make sure it doesn't turn in to a counseling session for you! (yes I've had this happen) 
Things like, "I just can't imagine what I would do if I lost (fill in the blank)! You are so strong (and you start crying)" 
Not helpful. 

-When in doubt, ask them. Remember, they are all over the place and change their mind a lot. Ask if they want to talk about their child. After the immediate shock and denial wears off most parents do! It's so comforting to know people haven't forgotten them. They are going to have trouble making decisions for a while-so make it easy for them. Show up and give them 2-3 choices. 

Whatever you do, don't say "I'm here for you, call me if you need anything." 

I KNOW people mean well and they just want to help, but most of the time they have no idea what they need and can't remember who offered anyway. You want to take responsibilities off their shoulders, not drop the ball in their court and run away! 

Show up and say-I can go pick up dinner, take the kids to the park, or clean your house. Which would help you the most? 

When possible, talk to the person who is handling all the details, meals, house, kids etc. 

-If you have said or done something from this list that I said don't do, ask forgiveness and do better next time. I knew people meant well, they just hadn't been through it before to understand. 

-Silence is ok. You don't always have to fill the space with words. 

-Don't let your own grief or fear cripple you from reaching out. The people who showed up and meant well (even if they didn't always say the right thing) meant more than the people who were absent. Show up at the funeral, drop off a meal, send them a card. Ask for courage and step up to be present for them. 

-With all this being said, every person is unique. The things I have said and suggested here are a compilation of 5 years of my own person journey with grief and lots of other parents. We have met so many parents on this journey and many of us feel very similar. However, it's possible that something I have said isn't true for your situation. I default to the "just ask" rule. 

Grief is hard. It's complicated. But it's a time for wonderful connection that can strengthen relationships for life. The people who showed up for us after Caleb died mean so very much to us. We will never forget the things they did and the ways they made our lives easier. The people who still remember him and ask how we are doing are so special to us. 

Take a deep breath. Ask for wisdom. And go show up. 

Jessica Jacobs

Here is a very short clip from Brene Brown on Empathy.  It's so so good: 

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Some Grief Guidance

So few people know how to grieve WITH people. And I'm no expert, but I have walked down the road myself a few times and wanted to s...