Grief is weird, and quite frankly, it sucks. There is no right way to do it. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for supporting people going through it. We’re all different, and therefore require a different type of support.
Here’s my advice – if you don’t know what your loved one needs as they grieve, ask them. Once you ask the question, listen to their response and support them accordingly. You may not understand why they need certain things – like space or quiet time to reflect, or maybe it’s the opposite and they need to be around people. You can ask them to explain why a particular type of coping is helpful to them. But please, whatever you do, make it about their needs. Not yours.
Here is my story. I lost my cousin and best friend this summer. She was 31. She battled cancer for nearly a decade while attending law school, then worked as a public defender. She lived a life fighting for inclusion and justice. She accomplished a great deal in 31 years and had an amazing, diverse network. Then a pulmonary embolism ended her life on June 5, 2020.
Grief is not linear, and you don’t always know when the various stages of grief will hit you. I found that I need a lot of space as I deal with this loss. I do share from time to time, but only when I have the right amount of time, and I am relaxed enough to do so. In trusted company. On my terms.
Most days I don’t have it in me to share. It is mentally exhausting, and as a working mom with a very busy day job, I find that it is best if I focus on one day at a time. If I get too far ahead of myself, anxiety can eat me up. I can’t allow that for many reasons, and I also cannot stop life. It keeps moving for all of us. So when I do need to talk, it is often easier to talk to someone who just listens. I don’t need someone to try to relate, to try to fill the void or ask more questions to “get the full scoop.” All of those can be triggers that induce anxiety attacks and sometimes even a strange sort of anger (depression and anxiety suck too, by the way). I sought out a counselor, and I am lucky I found one who fits me well. I am blessed to also have a couple friends who are excellent listeners and understand that there is still more to me than grief. They don’t spend every moment trying to “find a way in” to this space of my life. They listen in the moment, and then we move on.
On the other side of that coin, I have a loved one who told me she feels left out because I don’t come to her with my grief. She made inaccurate assumptions as to why I wasn’t coming to her. To you, loved one, I say – I am sorry I haven’t been able to pay closer attention to your needs. I am barely able to focus on my own some days. I do know that I can reach out to you anytime, and you’ll be there for me. I truly appreciate that and recognize how fortunate I am to have family and friends who care. Thank you for your patience, for giving me space and still loving me.