In the last month alone, numerous friends of mine have lost loved ones in incidents that were not expected.
A man in his thirties to a genetic condition that seemingly came out of nowhere. A woman in her late twenties to cancer, leaving behind her husband and two sweet babies. A young man to senseless gun violence, and even a child lost in a tragic accident.
As an outsider, hearing these stories has a bit of a chain reaction for me. First, I swallow the quick shot of reality that nothing lasts forever. It’s so easy to go about my everyday life without thinking of death, and then have a sobering moment remembering that I too will die at some point. I also think of the close family and friends who are likely hurting so badly and trying to pick up pieces of themselves off the floor.
Honestly, what do we do when others are grieving? When you want to show support, but also do not want to pry. Everyone deals with loss so differently, and it can be extremely hard to know how to maneuver best in these moments. Through my own personal experiences, and those I am close to who have suffered a deep loss, I have gathered some information that may be helpful in times like this.
Be aware of toxic positivity.
I wasn’t aware of the term “toxic positivity” until recently listening to someone speak about it. It is very easy to say something with good intentions that can be more hurtful than helpful. Saying things like “Everything happens for a reason,” or “In time you won’t hurt so badly,” are unnecessary. I recently spoke with a friend whose boyfriend was killed in an accident, and she recalled to me how hurtful it was when others said “I understand how you feel.” “The people who told me this didn’t understand how I was feeling. They had not been in my shoes, and while I knew they meant well, I didn’t want to hear that they knew exactly what I was going through.” Instead, acknowledge their hurt, and let the person grieving know you care about them and are there if they need anything.
Use actions instead of words.
Honestly, no one really knows what to say in moments of grief, and using actions instead of words to show support may come across better. Send your friend a card, or small gift that may help them remember their loved one. If you are aware that financially your friend may struggle, a gift card can be helpful. If they have children, offer to watch them for a bit to allow some breathing room. I am thankful to not have dealt with the loss of a spouse, but I am aware that there are times I need to just be alone to grieve, and would imagine someone offering to give me that time would be helpful.
Remember grief doesn’t go away.
My little brother passed away at three months old, from a congenital heart defect that was found not long before he passed. When I have spoken with my mom about going through that time, she told me that for her, it was hard when everyone seemed to move on and forget that he lived. “People stopped acknowledging him,” she has told me. The world does not stop spinning when someone is grieving, but remembrance later during the process can be comforting. If you happen to know of a date that was special, acknowledge it. Sending a card to someone who has lost a loved one on an anniversary or birthdate can be a small reminder to them that you remember their loved one and the importance of them in their lives. Even mentioning to them a memory you have can be soothing. For example, if you have a family member that has lost a spouse, remembering a time when they did something funny or mentioning how much something meant to you is a reminder to them of how amazing their loved one was. I lost a friend tragically in high school, and even years later, it is nice to see pictures of her or reminisce with friends about the things she did and said. We remember her and know that though time moves on and it can become easier, her loss is something we will never “get over”. Talking about who she would be today or laughing at the good times we had together always makes us feel thankful to have known her.
There isn’t one right thing.
Finally, remember that everyone grieves differently, and there isn’t one true standard that can be helpful for everyone. Trust your instincts and what you know of your friend, and tread in the direction that you feel is most helpful. If nothing else, just a small text saying “I am thinking of you,” or “I am here if you need anything,” can be enough.