Last week we had a little fire side chat, you and me, about why showing up for your grieving people well matters. Today, we’re going to look at tangible ways of HOW you can do that.
I recognize that this could feel, well, awkward. Most people rely on the tried and true “let me know if you need anything” catchphrase so that the bereaved know you are there whenever they are ready for you. But do you see what you did there with that well intended remark – you put the ball in their court. You put the onus on your grieving person to tell you what they need.
Friends, the trouble with this paradigm is that most people in raw grief have no freaking idea what they need or when they need it. I remember feeling flummoxed when I couldn’t remember the last shower I took in the early days after my babies died. Was it yesterday? Two days ago? Last week? I had no idea. When people would say to me “let me know what you need” I couldn’t fathom how to assess what my needs were in that moment and because I wasn’t able to verbalize what I needed, most people assumed I was ok. Even when I truly wasn’t.
When supporting your grieving person, you just need throw out suggestions until they say “yes, that’s something I would like or need”. It’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall – you never know what may stick. Depending on how close the relationship is, you may be able to anticipate exactly what they need. If it’s more of an acquaintance or less close relationship, I always start with food. Maybe because I’m a southern girl and feeding people is how we show love but my brain always starts with food.
You can do this. You can show up for your people in beautiful ways, even while feeling unsure of what you should say/do or what they may need from you.
How to do this:
- Call them. Text them. Show up at their house. Show up at the hospital, if it’s a close relationship and you’re invited to be there. Bring coffee. Bring food. Send a card. Send an edible arrangement. Send a cleaning person. Send a carrier pigeon with muffins. Just show up. If you can’t be there physically, use the phone, use FaceTime, or even send an email. Anything to let them know you’re thinking about them and their broken heart.
- Don’t expect them to know how they feel or what they need. We always want to start conversations with “how are you?”. I catch myself doing this all the time, even still. A better way to say it may be “I want to ask you how you are, but I suppose that’s a silly question.” It brings a little softness and humor to an awkward way to begin a heartfelt conversation.
- Listen. Not to respond, as most of us do, but with an open ear and an open heart. Listen to their words and try to keep the lip zipped even through the hard parts when you just want to fix it. You may know so and so who tried this and it worked wonders – that’s great for so and so. The person in front of you simply needs to be heard, have their experience/pain/grief validated and to have you sit with them in their mess.
- A few things that people would say that helped me: “I’m so sorry”, “ I hate that this has happened”, “I don’t know what to say other than I love you and I’m so sorry” “this is so shitty and I wish I could fix it”.
- If you’re wanting to get them something tangible, an ornament with their baby’s name on it is a beautiful gift. A piece of jewelry with their baby’s name on it is a beautiful gift. A meal, a cleaning person, a teenager to mow their lawn or detail their car, a hug, a shoulder to cry on… they’re all meaningful and helpful. Perhaps help fundraise to cover funeral costs; my husband’s fraternity brothers raised money to send us on a vacation to Mexico which was unbelievably generous. You can donate money to an organization that has meaning to them in their baby’s name or raise money to send them to a retreat or workshop. Etsy shops have amazing care packages and cards specific to loss and grief. Teaming up with other friends and family members to raise money or buy gift cards can make an even greater impact.
- Use their baby’s name and remember important dates. My sister spent the first two years after Caleb died poking and prodding my family to remember to check in on me on the 12th of each month so I wouldn’t feel like Caleb was forgotten. I love her so much for doing that even though I’m sure it was irritating to the rest of my family for her to “helpfully” remind them to reach out.
- Events – go to the events that are important to them. For me it was Caleb’s funeral, even though he had an open casket and it devastated people to see him in it. It was the annual Remembrance Walk, the memorial events, the cemetery visits… all of these things hold incredible meaning to me and having my people show up for them made me feel hopeful that I could survive with a little help from my friends. When Scott and I started The Beautiful Scar Project we had our people join our board of directors, come to our events, donate, volunteer… a lot of them still do to this very day and the impact that has had on my healing has been invaluable.
- Showing up is not limited to a specific timeline. The truth is, about 60-90 days after your loss the cards stop coming, the flowers have died, everyone else goes back to their own lives and you and your partner are left with the dreadful realization that this permeation of grief is now your life. That realization and the knowledge that the rest of the world has essentially moved on is crushing. Keep showing up. Send a card or a text on the birthday of their person who died. Send a random note/text/email throughout the year just so they know you haven’t forgotten. Attend a memorial event if they have one they like or volunteer for something that is meaningful to them. Keep showing up. Remind them that you are here for them, you’re a safe space for them to process their grief and you’re there to celebrate the good days and carry the load on the not so good days. I promise you, you won’t regret it and they won’t forget it.
These are but a few small ways to care for your people well. The main thing is to show up; and keep showing up. Remember that while it may feel uncomfortable for you to do so, it’s more uncomfortable for your grieving friend to pick up the pieces of their shattered hearts and cultivate a new normal and beautiful scars. Take one for the team and sit with your discomfort for a bit and help them carry the load. I promise you, it will make all the difference to them on their grief journey.