It is time for us to address a common topic. It is time to recognize that unfortunately, there is loss. Dying is part of life. There are times however, when loss comes unexpectedly. There are times when loss defies the natural order of how life is supposed to be.
For example, it is unnatural for a parent to bury their child. It is unnatural when the older buries the younger. No matter what the age might be, although natural, the finality of death seems so unnatural to us; to be without someone, to never hear their voice again or see them in the flesh, to say goodbye but yet, to hold onto them with all we have because memory is all we have left is an idea that has become far too common.
There is a longstanding idea that dates back for only God knows how far. There is a need we have, which is only natural. This is not a mean spirited plan or unhealthy. However, natural or not, the pressure of whether it is better to say something or find the right words to say is nothing new.
At times like now when loss is so prevalent, the idea that seems sadly unfair is that loss is becoming the new normal. Dying has always been part of life. This will never change but when we add epidemics and pandemics to the mix of cancers and natural causes, dying has become a more common subject to us all.
This is especially true now during the Covid-times. And still, there is this need to understand. There is the need to say the right thing to a parent as they bury their child.
There is an idea that we hope to comfort someone during their loss; however, the truth is the loss of a loved one is unbearable. There is no point in comparing love and losses. There is no reason to compare the loss of anyone to anyone else nor is there a reason to judge which loss hurts worse. There is only the commonality of pain, love, loss and this process we call mourning.
It would be inaccurate that any words could somehow fix the broken hearts of a grieving family. There is no possible way to answer the questions, “Why?”
“Why?” as if there could be a valid explanation to clarify the reasons behind the loss of life. Intellectually, we all understand that dying is part of life.
Spiritually or in the religious sense, those that follow this belief system understand that which is of flesh is of flesh and that which is of spirit is of spirit. Emotionally, none of this softens the pain. Emotionally, we feel, we hurt, we mourn or we cry. We go through different levels of grief. We have different ideas about our loved ones.
I have news that we all need to hear:
There are no right words to say. There is no right thing to say and, in fact, the most common things people say are often the hardest things to hear. Telling someone, “At least they’re not suffering anymore,” is not helpful. Saying “They’re in a better place,” is not helpful. Talking about God or Heaven or the afterlife means very little to someone with a different belief system.
We all process thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions in our own unique way. My process might be similar to another’s but still, when it comes to dealing with loss; my process is still my process. Your process is your process and many times, never the two shall meet. Nor, do they have to.
Still, there is this need to do or say the right thing. Meanwhile, there are no words that can soften the loss. There is nothing anyone can do that would cause anyone to forget their loved one passed away. In fact, sometimes all we have is our emotion. To try and take this away or solve this for someone can appear to be disrespectful to the memory of a loved one.
There are those like my Mother who refused to let go of the pain she felt after the loss of my Father. She would never let this go because to her, if she let go of the pain it would mean she was being disloyal to my Father. To my Mother, this means she would be disloyal to their love.
Intellectually, she knew and understood that my Father did not want her to weep or mourn or hurt at all. Intellectually, my Mother knew what my Father would have wanted for her. Emotionally, however, my Mother would not and could not let go.
I once spoke at a bereavement group where a Mother seemed angry with me. It was certainly not my intention to anger anyone or dishonor anyone’s ideas about loss or the emotions they felt. Me sharing about my losses were not to be seen as a comparison to anyone else or their loss. Instead, I discussed my experience with loss. It would be inaccurate to assume that my loss was not painful or tragic. Yet, in moments of pain, anger can often set in and the comparison of scars is also a way to manifest the great sorrow; as if to say, “I’m in more pain than you are!”
The woman said things to me that were painful. For her to assume that her pain superseded mine was inaccurate. she did not know what I saw, nor do I know what she saw, which is why I do not look to compare,
I do not compare pains or sorrows or try to compare my loss to another’s. Instead, I look to the core of the loss itself. I do not look for the right things to say because there are no right words. In fact, sometimes the best things to say are the unspoken things.
These are the actions. These are the little signs of support that go without long, superfluous explanations about life and death. There is no need to be flowery. There is no reason to try and change someone’s emotion or “Make it better.” Often, when trying to make things better we only serve to hurt things worse.
I have learned the most helpful thing to be is a listening ear. I have learned the most helpful thing to be is a deliverer. Be there.
The art of “Being there” is a marvelous thing. Send love. Send messages that say nothing else but “Hey, I’m just saying hi.”
I send messages like this. I’m not looking to distract anyone from their grief or loss or pain. I think we often forget the amazing gift of simple interaction. We forget that doing things is often better than saying things.
During a eulogy for my Mother, I offered the room an idea. I explained there is no right thing that anyone could say that would solve the pain in my heart. I offered a note of excuse that would excuse the room from the somber talks that take place at funerals. And yet, still, minutes after my speech, family members and friends alike came up in a line and literally said everything that I just explained was absolutely unnecessary.
It was on this day of my Mother’s death on June 10, 2015 that I realized how seldom it is that we listen to hear and often it is that we listen to respond.
After the loss of my Mother, I realized there is more to loving someone than saying the right thing. I learned that listening to listen is the most helpful thing we could possibly do for each other. I learned that unsolicited advice is unsolicited advice. And sometimes advice is just unnecessary.
The most valuable lesson I ever learned is sometimes the best thing to do is stop trying to make someone feel better. If needed, listen. If asked, be there. This is the only right thing to do.
We often mistake ourselves in the event of someone’s crisis. We forget this is not about us or what we have to say. This is about someone we love and care about.
So take a rest.
There are no right words. You don’t have to come up with anything to say. Just be there. Be helpful. Go to the store for them if they can’t find the time. Lend a hand. Lend an ear and listen. This is the most helpful thing anyone can do when someone we care about loses a loved one.
Trust me, this won’t go unnoticed.