Last week I alluded to the fact that I seem to have become the “grief girl” – the person you tap when someone you know dies to figure out how to best support their loved one’s. It’s a little weird to be known as the “grief girl”, simply because I am apparently the person a lot of people think of when someone dies. Death = a phone call/text/email/DM to Kim Woods, Grief Girl.
In my mind I imagine it goes like this:
“Did you hear that Uncle Joe died? I don’t know what to say to Aunt Mary about it, do you? No? You know who we should call?”
Honestly, it’s an honor that people consider me to be someone they feel cares for the bereaved well, so much so they would seek out advice on how to do the same. I’m deeply passionate about making sure that grief warriors know they aren’t alone and that they have people that will show up for them in their brokenness. Even if they don’t know exactly how to do it. Even if they don’t know what to say, how to say it, or how to act … because the truth is, grief is really messy. Like, a toddler left alone with peanut butter, messy. Consequently, the showing up for grievers is also quite messy and that can feel… unsettling.
“I don’t know what to say and I don’t want to make them feel worse. What do I do?” is repeatedly said in almost every text, email, DM, etc. that I receive on how to help a grieving friend or family member.
I can appreciate that fear – when someone you love is hurting, the last thing you want is to make them feel worse. Come close as I whisper the secret to finding the perfect words to say to your brokenhearted person – there aren’t any perfect words. Take a breath and hear me well – there is nothing you can say to take away the pain your grieving person is feeling.
Friends, you can’t take it away. I know you want to. I know that you would give anything to make it better; to fix it, to make the guttural pain of grief disappear and rescue your person from it’s grasp. I know you feel helpless… I know it’s painful for you to see your person wrecked and that nothing you can say will bind their wounds.
I don’t mean to frustrate you by sharing this truth with you. But truth, I promise you, it is.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had many of my people show up for me really, really well even though they had exactly zero clue how to do so. They all just winged it. When Caleb died, my people came out in force. The day of Caleb’s funeral, almost 100 people braved a blizzard to join us in celebrating our son’s life and say goodbye. We had memorial funds set up to help pay for his funeral and expenses, meal trains, phone calls, emails, texts, cards… oh the cards. They came for weeks, from near and far, from close friends, their parents, friends from childhood and their parents… from everyone, it seemed. It was so lovely and comforting. Books and jewelry were sent, pedicures scheduled, visits to the cemetery and long lunches had. IT. WAS. AMAZING. My people didn’t know what to say and sometimes they stumbled and sometimes they blew it. Big time. They kept showing up, though, even when it felt like my anger made it so they could do or say nothing right. My overwhelming grief may have scared them; they showed up anyway.
Not everyone showed up or supported me well; some people simply couldn’t find it within them to push through the discomfort in not knowing what to say or even how to show up and just be there. All I wanted was for these people to try – to say something. To do something. Something to show me that my grief, my shattered heart, and the abundance of love that I had for my son was honored and validated. And when these people, some of whom were chosen family members of mine for decades, couldn’t/wouldn’t show up for me, it made my dark days seem bleak at best. When they would call a few months later and not even mention Caleb or what I had been through and wanted to stick to a script of “how are you? How are these specific family members? How is the weather in CO?” and nothing substantive or authentic about my new normal, it broke me. I didn’t understand how they could pretend that nothing had happened when my entire world had shattered around me and I was decimated to my core.
Don’t be that guy. Be the guy who shows up instead. I know it’s scary to not know what to say but it’s vitally important that you say something. You do something, even if you aren’t sure what that is. Of course it will be challenging, of course they will no longer be the same person you knew because their lives are irreparably changed, thus, so are they. Of course it could go sideways or get awkward.
Take the leap and try anyways. Even if you’re worried you’re going to blow it.
It matters. It matters more than you’ll ever know because there will come a day when your life gets split into the “before” of the event and the “after” of the event, and you will want your people to show up for you. It may look different then the grieving person you’re supporting now, however all of us have a day where something happens or we lose someone we can’t live without and we will have to, in fact, live without them. Your people are who get you through so the more we as a society at large can push our discomfort of grief aside and learn how to bear each other’s burdans a little better, the more likely you will be cared for well when your day comes.
“Ok, Kim, we get the why now,” you may be thinking. “But HOW do we show up for our grieving people?” No problem, Friends – I’ve got you covered. Check back here next week and I’ll give you some tangible ways to show up for your people well. In the meantime, let’s check in with our tender hearts to see what they think – Grief Warriors – how did your people show up for you well?