Helping a Grieving Friend
Patrick O’Malley, a grief therapist, who lost his infant son, wrote a beautiful Modern Love essay a few years ago. Also, somewhat recently, he came out with the book Getting Grief Right about how each person’s grief experience is different — and everyone’s story is worth telling. Below is his insightful advice…
What NOT to say
O’Malley points out that these sayings imply that there is timetable for grief:
“Time heals all wounds”
“You have to move on”
“Grief happens in stages”
“I hope you find closure”
These next phrases, he points out, are by-products of a culture that rewards positivity:
“He wouldn’t want you to be sad”
“It’s important to stay busy and productive”
“This will make you stronger”
“You have your whole life ahead of you”
“At least you’re young enough to have another child/remarry”
What to do and say
Here are some of O’Malley’s wonderful ideas of ways to help a grieving friend:
–Simply say, “I’m very sorry.”
–Bring a meal on the two-month anniversary of a death.
–Send an email to say you were thinking about the grieving person or the one they lost.
–When you are with the bereaved person, say the name of the one they lost.
–Do not assume there is a timeline to grief. An email a year after a loss could be more meaningful than one a week later.
–Remember the bereaved on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or any day that you know has special meaning.
–Offer to visit, but always let the choice be that of the bereaved person. Offer, “I completely understand if the timing is not good.”
–Be curious about the grieving person’s relationship to the one they lost.
–Bring up your own memories.
–Offer to listen to a grieving person’s story. A bereaved person might be looking for a safe set of ears, a place for the story to land.
–Above all, make sure he/she knows that the one they lost has not been forgotten.
In the memoir Lament for a Son, a professor writes about the loss of his 25-year-old son, who died in a mountain climbing accident, which gave a true description of grief: “Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote. The answer is, No. The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the world of the one loved. That worth abides. So I own my grief. I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it…Every lament is a love song.”
Also, from Anne Lamott: “Death; wow. So f-ing hard to bear, when the few people you cannot live without die. You will never get over these losses, and are not supposed to. We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. All truth is a paradox. Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk.”