Yesterday we spent several hours celebrating the life of someone who packed an extraordinary amount of living into his 21 short years. Although this was someone I had never met directly, I came away from the experience feeling like I understood the essence of who he was. As we sat there in the church I was amazed at how many people he had impacted in his short life. And honestly when I looked at all the friends and family members there, I felt a different type of sadness, thinking about our own family and friends and the fact that our circle is much smaller. And here’s the thing – in our family we don’t have a lot of close friends, at least not the type that we really hang out with much. But that’s not because we don’t care or because people don’t love us. It’s because we are more reserved, shy, self conscious, closed off – I don’t know the exact word for it or the exact reason for it but in reality it doesn’t matter. It is not something negative. It just is.
Loss and coping
As a mom, one of the things that kept going through my mind from the time I heard the news was “how do you deal? How can you cope when a piece of you is missing?” And I still don’t know the answers to that. I have been blessed in that I have never lost anyone that I am really close to. I’ve lost grandparents and other family members but the biggest part of my grief and sadness was due to something, a closeness, I never had with them, and then due to their death, would never have the opportunity to have. So it is hard for me to fathom losing someone who is an integral part of your every day life. My hospice career gave me a false sense of understanding how this would be, but not what it would really be like. I felt like I understood a lot about loss because I saw it so often but seeing something and experiencing it are two completely different things.
But not me…
People talk about how kids and teenagers feel that they are invincible. If I am honest, I feel invincible too. Sure I get worried, sometimes insanely so, about something going wrong with me or one of my kids, but in reality I feel insulated, like even when bad things happen to people that I know it’s horrible and I hate it and I feel so bad for them but there’s a part of me that still doesn’t truly believe that it could happen to me. Even with all of the evidence to the contrary I saw as a hospice nurse, there’s still that overall sense of, “I’m so sorry that this happened to them, but I’m so thankful we’re safe.” I think in some ways that is just a type of self-preservation.
There were so many friends and family members that spoke and shared and were so obviously deeply moved. The minister read about the death of Lazarus
, and that even though Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus and that everything would be okay, he still grieved with Mary and Martha. He didn’t offer lame platitudes, he wept. So when someone we love is grieving, what can we do, how can we help? Most importantly, by not trying to fix it. When someone dies, regardless of their age or the circumstances, it is a loss, one that will impact every area of life for an undetermined amount of time. Everyone grieves differently, so there is no set time frame, no right time to “be over it”. Here are some helpful phrases to use (and avoid).
Being there for the bereaved, both in the days immediately after the death and later on, can include physically and emotionally being present, but also in tangible ways that allow time to grieve. Bringing food or pitching in with tasks to allow the loved ones time to just be together and grieve can be helpful, especially if there are small children involved.
Learning and growing
I try to learn something from every experience, to take something away that will change what I do, at least for a little while. Then in the day-to-day busyness sometimes it falls by the wayside but sometimes it sticks. So what are my biggest takeaways?
- love with your whole heart – and let people know
- take chances – don’t worry about making mistakes
- find your passion and pursue it – accept it if it changes
- connect with something higher than yourself – for me that’s God – and cultivate that relationship
- don’t sweat the small stuff – life’s too short
- talk about funeral plans, including music, with family members
- keep loving, and keep letting them know
What about you? What have you found to be helpful when dealing with your own losses or comforting others? Please share!