Last week I was asked to submit a quote for a magazine article on grief. The writer wanted me to answer the question, “when you are grieving what is the most helpful thing someone could say to or do for you?” She asked me to do it in one or two sentences! It was no easy task.
There are myriad ways to help out a grieving family member or friend. We can reach out with meals, rides, childcare, house cleaning, flowers, cards, calls and notes. The list can be far reaching particularly when we tailor it to the person who is grieving. But that wasn’t the question. The question was what was most helpful? I went back in time and pondered the question.
Nothing can prepare us for the grief of loss. Even when we are able to anticipate the passing of someone we love, we still cannot grasp the devastation that will inevitably overcome us in that moment. Grief is a process none of us can know until we are in it. We never forget that moment. It is the moment when your heart breaks – you can’t breathe, you can’t think – your world is spinning out of control. What do you do next?
In my Guide to Living Through Loss, there are five things on my “to do” list for managing fresh grief. The one that others can help with is “sharing our story.”
Sharing our story is vital to healing after loss. From the moment the pain of loss washes over us, there is no running from it. There is no place to hide from it. Nor do we want to. Loss isn’t just about having lost a focus of our life, love, and affection. It also encompasses the loss of every role that we and our loved one lived in each other’s life. The grief of great loss is a process to be worked through. In sharing the details of that life, we honor our loved one and the enormity of our loss. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says in her book, On Grief and Grieving that, “Grief shared is grief abated…tell your tale, because it reinforces that your loss matters.”
Each time we tell our story we chip away at our pain and heal a bit more. A bereaved friend of mine calls it “leaning into grief.” Retelling and replaying the story of our tears over and over is vital to living fully again. In living through loss, each time we see a family member, friend or acquaintance for the first time after our loss, we can be overcome with emotion. These are opportunities to share our story.
In our culture people can be uncomfortable facing other’s grief. Yet, sharing our story is cathartic and can serve to put others at ease. And don’t stress over repeating the story. This is our time to heal, and our example may serve to help those around us.
After praying for guidance, here’s how I answered the question: “What helped me most in my grief was when someone would say, ‘tell me about your son,’ or, ‘Dawn was the sweetest child. We miss her so much.’ Opening a door for me to tell the story of my loss was always the greatest gift in my grief journey.”