“How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You.” Ps 84:4

Monday, May 28, 2012

Grief Gaffes - Getting Past "I Don't Know What To Say"

This whole grieving business is the strangest thing I have ever experienced. 
When a wave of pain washes over me I ache to rid myself of it, I wish to know the secret that will push it so far away that it could never be found. But then once in awhile when the pain subsides and I find myself having a carefree moment, it makes me feel sad and in a twisted sort of way I miss the sting. 
I want people to be aware of what happened, as it now is a part of who I am, but I don’t want them to bring it up. There are still people around the community here who don’t know what happened, who are still asking me about Miguel and wondering where he is because they always saw him with me. I feel so strange and oddly guilty when I have to tell them that he is gone.  It still seems unreal and impossible to me too, and I feel bad because they were just asking to be nice. 
I’m glad for people to be able to see God in my life, in the hope that I have in Him to continue on, yet it irritates me sometimes if someone tells me what amazing faith I have or how strong I am to be handling this so well. I feel like it cheapens my grief somehow to think that my faith in God is some kind of magic wand that sweeps away the heartache. Because it doesn’t, and I still struggle with doubts and anger and fear.
People don’t want to see my tears, or to see me upset around them. They tell me don’t cry, he is in a better place, God needed another little angel, etc. Yet sometimes I feel a kind of disappointment or disapproval when I am being my normal self, laughing or joking about something or going about business as usual around  people I don't spend a lot of time with. It is as if I am no longer free to express myself truthfully - sad or happy - as if I am now expected to exist inside a certain range of feelings to satisfy the general public that I am ‘sad enough’. I’m not the same, yet I am. I’m not always acting sad, but I always am missing him.
People either avoid me because they aren’t sure of what to say or how to act, or they make a point of searching me out to find out ‘how I am doing’. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am being judgmental because I have been that awkward person many times myself, stumbling over what to say or what to do for someone I love who is hurting so much. However, now seeing the view from the other side, I thought it might be helpful to put a few guidelines out there for when any of you inevitably find yourself around someone who is grieving. While I obviously cannot speak for every person who has ever lost someone, I think that this advice can be used fairly universally: 
Just Be Normal.
Now for some people this will be a lot easier than for others, since there are many people in this world who really don’t even know who they are, but when in doubt just act how you have always acted in the past. Speaking now for myself, what I need you to know is that everything in my life changed in an instant; my family, my everyday routine, my plans, even the way I see and understand life and the world. The last thing I need are more changes, especially in the way my friends and family behave around me. 

It’s OK to make a joke, I need to laugh. Think nothing of it if my laughter suddenly turns into tears, this will happen often as it seems that tears and laughter are connected. (I am female, after all) 

See how I am doing by actually seeing, or listening; if you ask I can’t express the myriad of feelings I go through in a day and will probably just tell you that I’m fine. 
Saying, “I don’t know what to say” and then proceeding to ramble on for 10 minutes saying anything and everything that pops into your head just because you are nervous is understandable, but kind of silly and uncomfortable for both of us. If you don’t know what to say it’s alright, don’t say anything and just be there. Or give a standard ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ type of thing so that we can both move on and be normal with each other again.
Don’t be afraid to talk about my baby, or about anyone else's baby, or anyone else who has passed away, or about anything that you think may remind me of what I no longer have. Trust me, I haven’t forgotten and skirting around certain subjects only amplifies what you are trying to avoid. Every little thing reminds me of him, of what happened, of how much I miss him. The tiniest detail floods my mind with memories, so be patient if I drift out of the conversation sometimes. I want to talk about him, need to, but sometimes am afraid that people will get tired of my constant mentioning him or the affect that his death has had on me. 

If you say something insensitive and suddenly realize it don’t try to backpedal or apologize, just smile and we’ll both pretend it never happened. 

If I am fine one minute and the next you notice my eyes filling up with tears, keep doing what you are doing. Sometimes the attention is more painful than the memory that made me cry.

You may be grieving with me, but I beg you please don’t tell me what I am experiencing! Telling me that it must be so hard to deal with this certain thing, or that I must miss him so much at this certain time may be helping you, but I don’t really need any help being depressed. It makes me feel very self-conscious and awkward; a conversation about missing a loved one who has died needs to come about naturally. So instead of telling me what I must be feeling tell me how you are feeling, how you miss him or how you have been affected, and then I can reciprocate and it won’t be weird.
In reality, the worst thing that you could say is nothing at all. No matter how hard it is to express yourself to someone who is hurting, completely ignoring what has happened or avoiding the person it happened to is very hurtful, especially if this is someone who you have been or are relatively close to. Not acknowledging a deep loss will only add to it; yes It is hard to know what to say, but guess what? Nothing about this is easy for me either.
That being said, I would like to take a moment to thank every person who sent a message, note, letter or gift, everyone who called or sent emails. I am so blessed and was touched by the outpouring of love and support, and even though I couldn’t respond to each one I am truly thankful to have such an amazing family and sympathetic friends.
This can’t be fixed, nor can I, but that’s OK. This experience is not a one time event - I carry it and my sweet Miguel with me in my heart every day and I don’t want that to change. You may want to, but I don’t need you to take the hurt away. Losing the sorrow would be losing him completely and that would be infinitely worse. I am so thankful that you love me and that you mourn with me, but you can’t make it better and I don’t expect you to. Just be to me who you have always been, because your presence in my life is a blessing and more than enough.


  1. I so appreciate your honesty. Grief can be a very isolating road to walk down. Loving and missing you and both your boys. Wish I could be there and we could have a good crazy laugh cry together ;)

  2. ....oh that just reminded me of one of the worst comments I ever remember getting "It was for the best, you wouldn't have wanted a child with health problems" ???? Thick skin and a whole lot of grace ;)

  3. Karen, thanks so much for fleshing out some of the ways in which for you the saying "grief is complicated" is true. It is helping us, your friends and family, to have both permission and knowledge about how to relate to you - and probably to others we know who are experiencing grief and loss.