What did you grieve for this year? What did you lose? (Prompt credit: Kat Mcnally)
I’ve written so much about specific losses and pain this year that I almost can’t bear to do a summary of it again. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything left to say on the subject, at least from a general standpoint.
We all know what it’s like to experience pain and suffering, as well as the fear of allowing someone in during that tough time. A lot of us also know what it’s like to be on the outside, to watch another person cry out to God or anybody for that matter, begging to close the wound. Though I’ve experienced most of the former this year, I’ve actually gained a lot of insight about holding others up when they’ve practically doubled over. I thought I would share some of it in the form of a letter. And for the sake of clarification, I say “outsider” because he or she may not have been in that hurting person’s shoes before.
A friend of yours has basically told you that their heart is broken: a loved one might have passed away unexpectedly. Their parents or parent-figures might be choosing to separate or divorce. A significant other ended that relationship. It could be a number of circumstances, but one thing is for sure; he or she is devastated and going through a period of mourning. They might not outright say that they need you, but it’s apparent in their voice, their eyes, or the way they go from full of life to utterly lifeless.
Now here you might be feeling like you can’t do or say much, especially if you haven’t been in their shoes. But trust me when I tell you that that line of thinking is probably the worst way to go about it. No one in this world is ever without something to offer, regardless of what roads they’ve walked or what they’ve been taught. Let me repeat that again: there is always something to give, whether it be big or small. The key is the will to step out of what makes you feel comfortable and step into the role of a supporter, confidant, and friend. Keep in mind that this is not about you, this is about the person who is looking at you with pain written across their face, and is trying to tell you that they’re going through some level of hell.
It’s natural to approach any situation as a problem that needs to be solved; we live in a society that’s constantly busy, going from one thing to the next. At best, we rattle off a list of do’s and don’ts and how-to’s. At worst, we serve a course of “suck it up and move on” or “stop crying and be an adult.” We rely on gender norms in order to cope. The reality is that this may not be a problem to solve or even a pain that you can take away. This may be something that they have to deal with for the rest of their life.
One way to go about it is to ask the question, “what do you need?” You’re not making assumptions and you’re not acting like you have the answers (in which it’s OK if you don’t). Your friend’s response could vary, but many people simply want someone they can pour their heart out to without fear of being condemned or criticized. Another way of putting it would be that they just want you to listen; I’ve found that in order to become a good listener, you must learn how to be silent and give them their space until they’re finished. Or at least do so until he/she invites you into the conversation, either by asking what your opinion is on the situation, or how they should go about moving forward (which I’ll get to momentarily). If you don’t understand something or need clarification, ask questions to keep the conversation going. The best response might be “I may not have been in your shoes, but I respect where you’re coming from.”
Another important aspect is acknowledgment that you’re there; making eye contact and keeping it affirms that you’re giving them full attention and that their words aren’t just going in one ear and out the other. I can’t speak for everyone, but physical touch has always been a way for me to connect with others. Sometimes it’s just touching their shoulder or taking their hand at some point. Other times it’s putting my arm around them or giving a hug/holding them afterward. This can be tricky because there are those who are not touch-oriented; be aware of those boundaries and respect them if they’ve been set. Yet, I can say from personal experience that a hug is the best way to reassure someone that they’re not alone, especially if you don’t know what to say. There are circumstances where actions speak louder than words, because words are not always needed.
Out of everything, what you want to communicate the most is this: I hear you, I see you, and I respect that’s how you feel.
That being said, there will be times when something is beyond what you know or are able to do. Your friend might need a therapist or counselor who can give more feedback and insight than you alone. However, communicating this is not the easiest thing to do; choose your words carefully because it can come off in a way that you didn’t intend. Affirm that you care about the person and that you will be with them through this tough time, but along with that, it’s a good idea for them to seek professional help. You’re not walking away, but you’re not taking on something heavier than what you can handle.
It doesn’t necessarily have to end after one conversation: call them, text them, encourage them. The best messages are often the ones that simply let somebody know that you’re thinking about them; this is especially true if you know that something is going on but the other person hasn’t or may not want to bring it up.
I’m not writing this to give you crap, and I understand that a lot of this is easier said than done. What’s the point of trying to take on the weight of somebody’s world if you can’t carry it? Here’s the thing though: despite what you’re told, you don’t have to go big or go home in order to make a difference in the life of another person. That’s what love in action is all about; being able to do the small things with a big heart.
Instead of being one who complains about the lack of good in the world or how unfair life is, be one who makes a point of putting good back in it.
With Sincerity and Compassion,
The other side
I have learned and come to understand a lot about grief and loss in this last year alone. As stated in the letter, it doesn’t just have to only involve the passing of a loved one. It could be a broken relationship that’s beyond repair. A separation or change in family dynamic. Realizing that one chapter is closing and that a particular stage of life is over. Yes, this is all encompassed in grief; and I know this because I’ve been through it or am currently experiencing it right now.
I cannot describe how alone I’ve felt during these times, and how that isolation still fills me every so often. June is, and probably always will be a very difficult month. A couple of weeks from now will mark an anniversary of a loss that I still feel to this day. I never said goodbye, nor did I mourn with a community. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get over that.
And for that reason, I became resentful of the people I felt like should have been there more than anybody. I felt emotionally distant from my family. I explained to friends who were on the outside that I had very simple yet specific needs, and yet they still felt like they couldn’t help. Damn it that hurt…a lot.
Grief isn’t measurable; everyone is hurting, regardless of how close they were to the person. So for people to tell me that I needed to be strong and stop dwelling on it is complete bullshit. I still think about it. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. There’s no expectation for anyone to wake up one day and suddenly not feel the sadness ever again. It’s always there, if only a dull ache that beats against your chest when something triggers a memory.
I’m in a place right now where I need to do what feels healthy for me. It may look selfish and/or stupid, but quite frankly I’m tired of hiding. I don’t expect everybody to understand or agree with it, and that’s OK. What’s important is that I do what is best to ultimately be a better daughter, sister, and friend. It’s not about making people understand, but learning how to live whole-heartedly despite the fact that some don’t.
That’s all right with me.