Grief is honestly the worst! There is nothing more enraging than that bullshit like “they are in a better place” (like I care, I would rather them in a much worse place and still with me) or “everything happens for a reason.” And it is incredibly lonely. But every single person who does not die young themself (as some of us do) experiences grief. And every single person has a friend or family member who experiences grief.
There are also different kinds of grief and loss that all of us experience throughout our lives that are not related to death- I remember losing my favorite teddy bear at 3 crying forever (maybe a day but forever when you are 3). I am not at all comparing the loss of a parent, spouse, and especially a child to a breakup or the loss of a company you started, but nevertheless, people do experience feelings of loss during those times that are real and worthy of being respected and acknowledged. Loss is a part of life and whether it is the most traumatic – a death – or still sad and heartbreaking such as a breakup – it is worth understanding what has worked and has not worked for those going through it, as every experience (on a higher or lesser scale) can help us develop tools and empathy.
I reached out to my friends and network to ask them what was some of the best (or worst) advice/support that they received in the losses they experienced. Here is what they said.
Cortney Harding – Founder of VR/AR Agency Friends With Holograms.
Be there for the long run
“ I lost someone close to me in 2018 and the best thing people could do for me was listen then and continue to listen now. I find that people often really step up in the aftermath of loss but are less open to hearing about it months down the line, even though grief is non-linear and certain triggers reopen old wounds.”
In short, if you want to support someone who is grieving don’t say ‘let me know if you need anything’ or ask ‘what can I do?’. Be really specific with what it is you are able to and want to give and offer it to them. It takes the mental toll off the person going through the loss to
1) come up with a need and then 2) weigh if they want to ask you 3) get up energy to ask and coordinate.
The best piece of advice I can give is one I received from my friend Sally, who recently passed.
‘If you want to offer assistance, have a conversation with yourself before you have one with your friend. Look into ways of being supportive, and think about ways you’ll be more or less helpful. Your friend might not know whether you like cooking, whether you have a car, whether you’re in their neighborhood regularly, what your financial situation is, etc.
I once sent out a plea to my New York friends for weight-gain smoothies, not realizing that half of them don’t really cook, not even smoothies, and that it’s not necessarily practical to be hauling extra smoothies around on their commutes (not a big deal — I just got lots of store bought ones, but it goes to show asking for what you need sometimes requires more information about how it can be provided)…… And if your resource right now is your ability to send a couple texts or postcards, that 100% counts as being supportive.’
– Sally N
Another great resource for me was the
Hot Young Widows Club. SUPER great resource that I got when I started dating a widower this year. It also helped with my own grief from the loss of so many friends.”
Cecilia Pagkalinawan – Founder of Flyway
Turning to those you admire who have been through it
“After my sister’s death, I went to a grief therapist which I found quite helpful. I also relied on others’ advice who have also experienced grief.
I had two friends who reached out whom I met in the startup world, angel investors and CEOs who had tragic losses in their families. I thought, ‘If they survived what they have gone through, and can be as successful as they are, then I could do it too.’”
Jillian Motyl Rockland
Be there. Check in not just after the loss. And no, do not say to someone their loved one is in a better place.
My brother struggled with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder for years – we were very close – my family and I did everything we could to help him, to save him, but in the end it didn’t matter.
Some of the most helpful:
After going back to work two close co-workers reached out to me to ask to grab a coffee. I don’t work closely with either of them, but consider them both friends. We went for coffee and they told me that were just so sorry – and that were no words – and told me they were just there to listen, and to either let me talk about anything I wanted – or to just sit in silence with me. This gesture was incredibly moving for me, and even though I expressed that to them in some way – I’m not sure they could possibly grasp how profoundly that gesture has stayed with me long after those coffees.
My cousin told me she’d always keep her phone on and with her and to reach out literally anytime I ever wanted to talk. She has 3 small children. And she truly meant it. There were a couple nights I reached out at 2am, very much struggling to just keep getting from one moment to the next, and she just listened, and talked with me.
Checking in after the immediacy of the loss wears off. Friends and family text and call and just check in and send love. It’s been 8 weeks, which might seem like a long time, but to me time stopped the day my brother died.
Some of the not so helpful:
Some of the worst were when people would Say “he’s in a better place.” I understand the sentiment, but he’s not here with me and my family. So no, he’s not.
People telling me they understand how I feel because ___insert person here___ died. This may sound selfish, but grief, particularly traumatic grief is such an individual experience, that it actually made me feel a little anger. Of note, none of these situations were suicides or traumatic deaths of young people, and had they been, I may have felt differently.
Telling me to “make sure you’re sleeping and eating enough.” This one actually infuriates me still. I would love to be eating and sleeping well… Again, I understand the sentiment, but all it does is remind me that I am deeply struggling, and, of course, if I could get a good night’s sleep and eat well it would help, but I can’t so…
Closing a company has it’s own grief, and it helps to look at it through a lens of hope instead of sadness.
“I received the best advice from my ex – when it was appearing that I would need to shut down my company. I literally think this is why I was in a relationship with this guy for 11 years way back when . He said “ listen, you’ve been doing this for 9 years. And you’ve been spending all your time obsessed with this. If you can raise a last minute Hail Mary deal, great. If not- what are the things you have not been doing well that you could now do? Taking care of yourself? Being a good friend? Being a better wife, mom, person? What will it feel like when you let this thing go and are able to enjoy other things and GET PAID?”
This conversation was so very useful. And helped me think of the future from possibility and hope instead of sadness and dread. And you know what? He was right.”
Marianna Sachse – Founder at Jackalo
Don’t just ask ‘How are you?’
“I lost my mom almost eight years ago. When people ask “how are you” most are inclined to give the rote answer that we all give every day: “I’m fine.” But when people ask, ‘How are you doing today?” Or “how are you holding up today?” it is much more of an invitation to NOT be ok. Also, I found that the full first year was not really mourning. It was shock. At a year out a flood of emotions came, and then I really began to process the end. My understanding from folks in the grief space, is that this is pretty much the norm.”
Tiffany Yu – Inclusion + Empowerment Advocate
There are no shortcuts
“I received a piece of advice from a therapist ‘The only way out is through.’ I lost my dad in a car accident when I was 9 when I was also in the car. No one asked me how I was. I think when other people don’t acknowledge it, it makes it worse. I want opportunities to remember my dad, and being able to share memories of him would have been healing for me.”
Julie Fogh – Cofounder at Vital Voice Training
As others have said – Don’t ask. Do.
“When I was in grad school, my grandmother passed away. An acquaintance (now a dear friend) said to me ‘What time am I taking you to the airport’ not ‘do you need a ride?’ or anything else. The same friend also knew I was getting in my head and popped by my house with ingredients to make a cake and an excuse that her oven wasn’t working.
I had a major break up with a fiancé a couple of years ago, and that split was soul crushing in a magnitude that paralyzed me. During that time, a friend stopped by to pick up some items I was giving away and stayed a little bit longer to help me pack some boxes, just because she knew I’d need it. Again, not asking IF just jumping in. When I got to my new destination, another friend spontaneously mailed me a Le Crueset dutch oven- with a lovely card that said something along the lines ‘This is to build new memories and hearth with’. That pot has a place of honor in my home and history.
It’s hard to ask for help, especially when you don’t know what would help- so sometimes jumping in when you see a need is the right way to go.”
Written by Elizabeth Entin
#Grief #CopingwithGrief #ItsOkToNotBeOk #SelfCare