There is one lesson that I’ve learned which has been helpful to me. And this lesson comes after years of living with my own losses. This comes after me finding a sense of recovery, which has been ongoing after the loss of my Father and then certainly after the loss of my Mother. I have lost friends and relatives. I have seen death, up close and personal. and through it all; I have learned that above all, grief is very personal. It is not my place nor is it my right to compare my grief or suppose that mine is worse or better. Grief is grief and loss is loss. Period. End of sentence.
We can love one another. We can do our best to comfort each other. We can allow ourselves to be an extension of friendship with warmth in the hand. However, since grief is very personal, we must always understand that to each is their own process. This is personal and to deny or to compare or assume someone’s grief is inappropriate.
I have spoken at great lengths with parents that grieve the loss of their child. And to them, no one will ever understand their loss. I have listened to people in group sessions declare and associate the grief of others, but with who’s right? I have heard from people that told me, “You don’t know what loss is.” and yet, I disagree. I do know what loss is. I just don’t know what their loss is.
I have been told, “You don’t know what this feels like!”
And yes, I agree. I don’t know what anyone else feels like. I have never seen life through their eyes and I have never experienced touch with their hands. I understand love. I understand sadness and loss. But no, I do not know what this feels like in someone else’s mind.
I do not have the same simulations or the same experience of memory. All I have is the common bond of grief and loss. I want to heal or at least promote a sense of self-efficacy. I want to find comfort and yet, I say this but this is only me. There are some that choose to stay in the experience of loss. They choose this without looking for ways to achieve a new level of awareness. In fact, my Mother was someone that choose to stay in her grief after my Father passed away.
I listened to a man talk about the loss of his infant son. There was a night in which his son was restless and could not sleep. There were other struggles going on at the time. The man thought to himself about his son. In his frustration, the man explained, “I wished the kid was never born.”
“I actually thought this way,” he said.
“But I didn’t really mean it.”
“I was just frustrated.”
Two days later, the infant died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
The man explained to me, “I have been carrying this around for 30 years.”
I know that there is no way for me to relate to this nor is there a reason for me to try. However, in an effort of unity, I chose to listen.
I chose to allow him his voice. Why would I possibly say something like, “I understand,” when although intellectually, I might understand; emotionally, I cannot and will not ever fathom or understand the depth of shame, guilt, despair or regret this man has in his heart. He lost his son and in his mind, he wished for his son’s death and the wish was granted. Intellectually, this is untrue. Emotionally, however, well . . . that’s a different story altogether.
There is an old Chapel close to my home. And next to the chapel is an old graveyard that dates back to the early 1800’s. There is one headstone that reads with a sad quote for a child that only lived for a few days.
“A tiny flower, lent not given. A bud on Earth to bloom in Heaven.”
Loss is historic. This is nothing new. This has been going on since the beginning of time. However, with today’s climate and after the death tolls of Covid, plus the usual casualties that include cancer, heart failure and literally all the other ways one could meet their end; life is still life and death is still death. Unfortunately, it seems as if death has become the new norm but I reject this motto.
The fact remains that the mortality rate in human beings is 100%. No one lives forever. This is true, when it comes to the game of life, no one gets out alive.
We all have an end in store for us. However, in the interim, we have the benefit of love. We have the benefit of warmth. We have the benefit of memories that none of us would ever trade in.
We have the right to live. We have the right to mourn and weep. We have the right to celebrate life as best as we possibly can. And if we so choose, then we have the right to dictate how we mourn and therefore, no one has the right to choose the way we grieve nor can anyone downplay or suggest that anyone’s sadness is not as tragic.
I often think about a mother that endured two losses. Her oldest daughter died from an overdose. And near the anniversary date of this death; after undergoing a full hysterectomy, the father had gone to their home for a few personals to keep the mother comfortable. And in his search, he came home to find his middle daughter was dead from an overdose. The mother was still in recovery when she learned the news. I cannot begin to understand this. Nor should I try. Instead, when someone with this experience talks, I just listen.
When someone, such as my co-worker talks about his five losses of loved ones in his family that died within this year’s time, I say nothing. Instead, I listen.
I do not compare. I do not tell anyone “I know how you feel.”
I never offer a suggestion that begins with the word, “Just” as in, “Just do this,” because the word “Just” is something that “Just” doesn’t make sense sometimes.
Grief is personal. Loss is personal. And life is personal. We all have this right and more accurately, we all want this right. Then henceforth, we need to allow each other this right.
“You don’t know how I feel!”
I get that. And this is a true statement.
No one will ever know exactly how we feel. As a matter of fact, all we can do as a species to help each other is allow us our right to feel and heal in whichever way we choose. Not all things match up. Not everyone feels or thinks the same way. Grief is personal. This isn’t something that someone can fix. So don’t try to because trying to “Fix” this can be insulting.
You want to help someone after their loss?
Do not try and lead the conversation. Do not try and steer the talk away from the loss because if someone is speaking about this, perhaps they have chosen to speak with you for a reason.
See this as an honor of love and honor them back by listening.
Remember, no words will ever comfort the loss of a loved one. Saying things like, “They’re in a better place now,” is not always helpful. Saying, “At least they’re not suffering anymore,” might sound comforting; however, reminding a loved one about their loved one’s suffering can be painful.
Best tip: Stop looking for the right words to say because there are none.
Just be there.
This is the most helpful thing you can do.