How To Comfort A Person Who Is Grieving

In case you thought this would be an informative blog, you know, one which would assist you should you find yourself being called upon to comfort a loved one……. nope……..sorry. There is no ‘’right’’ or ‘’wrong’’ thing to do, say or even be.

In one of my recent blogs, I mentioned how, after losing my husband, different people displayed such different behaviour. There were those who were very ‘’hands on’’, but many were just there for the ride. Sounds bizarre, I know, and when it was pointed out to me early on by a good friend, I was actually annoyed that she had implied that. But, to be honest, since then, I have seen how those very same people are the ones who rush off to find the next person going through the grieving process. For some, it makes them feel good about themselves, for others, it is so they can be seen to be doing the ‘’correct’’ thing, and for the rest, believe it or not, it is so that they can report back to everyone who might need to get the lowdown. Kind of ‘’hear it here first’’ vibe.

Then there were those who you had expected to be totally there, and from whom you craved comfort, but did not give you what you needed. In retrospect, perhaps it was just too painful or awkward for them.

Then there were those that would say something causing you to fantasize about handing out one swift slaps across the face, coupled with a facial expression of bewilderment as to the empty-headed, half-witted and mindless words they had just uttered.

Then there were those that did absolutely nothing, but were the most comforting. These are the people we all hope to be when supporting a person going through loss.

I hope that this is not coming across as me in any way being ungrateful for the love that was showered upon me during that time. No matter who does what, or how they do it, you just lap up any and every bit of love and comfort that you are blessed with. And once you look back, you are totally aware of the fact that they all meant well, and did the best they knew how.

So, having been the “griever” at one point, one would imagine that I would know exactly how to behave when I became a ”grievee”. One would assume that I would know exactly what words would be comforting, what words would be annoying or whether there should even be words!!

Why I had thought that is beyond me, as I have always believed that every person’s loss is different. In fact, every person’s different loss is different.

Since my husband passed away, I have also lost my mom and my dad. Each loss was totally different, and I had (and continue to have) totally different grieving processes. The grieving process never ends. It gets easier perhaps, it rears its head less over time, but once you have suffered a loss, it becomes part of your life.

So it would have been totally unrealistic for me to have assumed that, for me particularly (a person who does not even know when and what to say during the normal course of events), I would have had any idea how to comfort a ‘’griever’’.

However, if you feel you know the person well enough, one would imagine that you should have the upper hand, would you not? Would you not know what would help and what would infuriate (yes…some people say the most infuriating things) the person? It is always an awkward situation for the grievee, but some people are just really good at it, and know exactly what and when (and even if) to say something. They are naturals at it, and just slip into the role comfortably. They do no over thinking, they just do them. These people are probably in the minority though.

Even those that infuriate, mean well. One just becomes very selfish at certain points in the grieving process, and people can say the most inappropriate things, which on a normal day, might not have had you wanting to sucker punch them.

Just as an example, when someone innocently says “‘bye enjoy your weekend.”

Those simple and usually inoffensive words, have you thinking, enjoy my weekend??? What???? How do you expect me to ever enjoy my weekend again you blithering mongrel???????

I too have undoubtedly said some of those things too, in the last month or so.

The Blog I made reference to earlier, referred to a dear friend of mine who felt she needed to apologize for not being more supportive, after I had lost my husband. When I was explaining to her how there was no need for her to feel bad, as I had always felt that she was comforting me and continuously embracing me with warm hugs, I had no idea that she was about to suffer the loss of a loved one too.

When this happened, I was at a loss on how I was going to be able to comfort her. Firstly, she lives across the ocean, and secondly, she, like me, tends to internalize things a lot. So naturally, I stepped back, so as not to suffocate her. However, I then started to think about the fact that she felt guilty for having stepped back when I was grieving, so would that mean that she would expect and need more from me in her current situation? And then the over-thinking and feelings of guilt almost start to take over what is actually important. Just being there for your friend, even in your thoughts, as she was for me. Stop over thinking, stop feeling guilty, just send her love, light and strength….be it only in your thoughts and prayers, and she will be sure to receive it.

Shortly thereafter, a friend who I have reconnected with recently (thank you COVID), experienced a double and tragic loss of two direct family members (f*** you COVID). This friend also stood on the sidelines when I was grieving, but in her own way, was uber supportive. I think there are those that can be ”supportive”, to the extent that they catch you before you fall, and then there are those that can be ”comforting” once you fall. Then there are those that are both. Truly, either works, but some find it harder than others to be either.

This friend was the friend who stood by quietly waiting to catch me before I fell. Her and her special family (who did not know me at all before my loss), were so there for my children and I. She is very much like me too, as she just likes to be left alone to process things, before being bombarded with grievees. So, again, there I was, not knowing what to do, how to do it or when to do it. The over thinking and the guilt was even more intense, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she is a neighbour who I see regularly, and secondly, the two people that she lost were so comforting to me years earlier.

It is just so difficult, as no matter whether you have suffered loss, or been fortunate enough not to have suffered a loss, one just never knows how to behave. Is it enough? Is it too much? Who knows?

At the end of the day, we do the best that we can, and whether there is a ”right” way or a ”wrong” way of helping a person through their grief, we will never really know. The extent to which we contributed to ease their grieving process, they themselves might only realise years later….if ever.

So of course, I made all the standard mistakes…. feeling helpless, useless and guilty …..being suffocating….being absent….saying the wrong things. But hopefully, for both my dear friends, somewhere in that equation, I have also been helpful and been useful….been there enough, but not too much and said some ‘’right’’ things.

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