Over these past two weeks, several people very close to me have lost a loved one – either to Covid, long-term illness or a tragic accident. I know of seven deaths over the past 10 days that people I care about deeply are dealing with: a beloved grandmother, a mother and last-living parent, a baby brother, a life-long friend.
I know from my own experience of having lost my baby sister, that in times of acute heartache over death, it feels like there are two distinct groups of people – those who are grieving…. and everyone else.
Others who themselves have experienced the death of someone close and whether they mean to or not, may even judge you for how you grieve (it isn’t long enough, deep enough, obvious enough, etc). We unconsciously compare our mourning to that of others.
I listened to a podcast a few months ago on grief where David Kessler, considered the “Father of Grief”, said simply and so aptly, “The worst kind of loss is your own.”
No one can even begin to imagine what you’re feeling or thinking or processing when someone close to you dies. Grief, as I’ve come to understand it, is as individual and unique to you as your thumbprint.
And because of this very personal grief journey that you’re on right now, perhaps, like me, blanket condolences feel shallow and do nothing to ease your sadness – regardless of how much love and concern they were conveyed with.
But for me at least, there were some beautiful, notable stand-outs that I found very helpful and that even today, I continue to cherish as candles of light, warmth and comfort in the bleakness of heartache.
I’d like to share these sentiments to those of you who are processing the death of a loved one right now, in hopes that these words might provide even the tiniest sliver of solace:
Strength is overrated. People will wish you strength as one of the “tick the box” condolence statements. They mean well. Don’t worry at all about having to be strong in your loss especially if up till now, you’ve been the strong one that everyone else has leaned on. Feeling like you have to be strong (which we do for others) is futile and self-defeating when all you may be feeling at the moment is numb and depleted.
Lean into your grace. This helped me so much. Showing grace isn’t about being stoic in your suffering. It’s allowing yourself to move through whatever it is you’re feeling as you process your loss. Grace is understanding that everyone works through death differently or is consoling you in their own way even if they’re missing the mark. It’s showing empathy for their empathy and being grateful for their love and concern. Grace is not about rising above the pain of your loss but stepping into it with loving kindness toward yourself.
Accept help if it helps you. People feel helpless in their desire to support you in your grief. If their offers to help help you – whether through food, taking over communication about your loss (emails, texts, phone calls on your behalf), or giving you “space to grieve”, then accept whatever suits your needs best.
You matter, in spite of your loss. I don’t write that lightly. Your loved one meant the world to you. Of this I have no doubt. But think about what you meant to them – how your love and support brought meaning to their lives, maybe even lessened their suffering. If you understand this – that you gave them meaning too – then you will understand how important you are. And with this realisation of how much you mean, you will hopefully see how important it is that you choose love and kindness toward yourself. Nothing was in futility.
Your relationship with each other is forever. While he or she may no longer be here, your special bond to each other continues well beyond their time on earth and even your own. You keep your loved one present through your memories, your thoughts, your stories, your experiences. You will continue to see your loved in ways you don’t even expect – sunlight revealing the exact shade of orange you both loved, the taste or smell of a dish you shared together, a meaningful quote that someone sends you randomly (which turns out isn’t random at all), an unexpected bouquet of flowers, the kindness of a stranger. You keep your loved one present through your love for each other. And since love is an energy that extends well beyond time and space, your one-on-one relationship continues. Infinitely.
My wish for you, Dear Grieving Friend, is that maybe one day, when you’re ready, you will see that this loss has given you “the gift of sight” about what truly matters in this life. As you navigate your grief journey, I wish you much love, peace, grace and self-kindness.