Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Grief

It is so hard to lose a loved one, but around the holidays seems especially hard. Everyone around you is celebrating, and your world just ended. I personally can't think of anything worse than someone saying "Merry Christmas" to you when you are making funeral plans. What set me off was seeing a friend's Facebook status about a recent loss. Someone posted in their comments that they made sure to add this poor family to their caroling list. The last thing that family needs is a group of happy people showing up at their house to sing holiday songs for them. What that family needs is to be left alone, with visitors who are close family and friends who mourn with them. So here is my guide to mourning with those who mourn.

First of all, do not buy them a plant. About a month or two after the funeral, that stupid plant is going to die, and it's not helpful for the healing process to have a stupid death plant laying around. I didn't keep any of the live plants we got when my mom died, I gave them all to family who can actually keep a plant alive.

Do not say it was their loved ones time to go. Even if it was, that's not a comforting thing to hear. Let them come to that realization on their own. It's been over 3 years since my mom died, going on 4, and I'm only now accepting that it may have been my mothers time. There were a lot of signs that we just didn't see, because we didn't want to accept it. I still don't.

Say something like "I am so sorry for your loss." The best thing anyone said to me when my mom died was my neighbor, who was quite a bit older than me. She said "I remember how hard that was." Yes, she got it. She had been there. If you haven't lost a parent, a child, or a sibling, you do not know exactly how that person is feeling. Even if you have lost someone, you still don't know how that person is feeling. I was mad as hell when my mom died, and my friend (whose mother was actually the midwife who delivered H) lost her mom a few months later. Her outlook was completely the opposite of mine. So don't say "I know exactly how you feel." You don't.

Think about your relationship with the mourner before you go visit them. They don't need everyone in the neighborhood or church group over at their house. If you are not super close, just go to the viewing. Even better, wait a month and then go and visit them. Everyone comes over in the first week, when things are hectic with funeral planning, notification, and sometimes out and out shock because this came out of nowhere. But a month down the road, everyone else seems to have moved on, and those who have experienced a loss are still floundering, and alone.

Donate money to the family to help pay for the funeral. My mother's funeral cost us around $12,000, and I downgraded the casket because I knew she wouldn't like any of the ones in the price package we were being shown. If a family is struggling financially, anything can help. Did you know you have to pay the funeral home before your loved one gets transported to the cemetery?

Take food over, but take good food. If it's something the family can make themselves--even the grief stricken can open up a can of beef stew or order pizza delivery--maybe you'd better rethink it. Horrible food can make a bad situation even worse. And don't bring over spaghetti, or anything containing spaghetti. And a watermelon isn't dinner, so please bring something else.

If the family has lost a child, be extra sensitive. When my sister Heather was stillborn, people said some of the most insensitive things. My mother never fully recovered from that loss, and honestly, neither did I. I still can't think about my little sister, that I never knew, for long without breaking down in tears.

Don't tell someone it was God's will. It's hard enough not to rail at God for allowing someone to die, much less consider the idea that He did it on purpose. Someone told me God needed my mother more than we did. That person is lucky I didn't punch them in the face. How could He need my mom more than my dad, my siblings, her grandkids did? My youngest brother was on a mission when she died. Did God need my mother more than my little brother needed stability at home so he could stay focused on the work in the mission field?

Watch out for the health of those who are grieving. My dad is a diabetic, and he required some close monitoring to make sure he was eating right and taking his insulin. And if you know someone in the house is diabetic, don't bring desserts over.

The most helpful thing someone did for us when my mom died was dropping off a deli meat and cheese platter and a bag of rolls. It made it easy to grab something fast, and it was helpful to have protein around.


It occurs to me that I'm still fairly bitter about my mothers death. My earliest memories are of my grandmother who died when I was 3 years old. I know what it's like to grow up without both grandmas. I have seen my brothers grow up have no memories of their paternal grandmother. My daughter doesn't really remember my mother, she only knows her through stories. My nephews will never know their grammy.

Grief is blinding.

My aunt, whose husband drowned during a family river trip, on the 4th of July , told me that some years are easier, and some holidays are easier than others. Sometimes Easter is easy to get through, and Halloween makes you want to crawl under the covers and never come out. She was right.