Brandi and I hear this question all the time and we wish we had better advice for those that are brave enough to reach out. The problem is, everyone grieves differently. There is no answer to this question that will help everyone that is grieving.
Ultimately, what we tell them is it is okay to grieve and it is okay that it is different for everyone. My aunt Cindy lost her son 12 years ago and she shared an analogy with us that helped us so much in the days after we lost Tate. She told us that initially the pain is like a boulder that we have to haul around with us everywhere we go. In time the boulder chips away little by little until it is like a pebble that you can put in your pocket and carry around with you. The pain will always be there, but in time it becomes manageable.
Recently on Reddit someone wrote the following heartfelt plea; “My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”
There was an old man that answered this plea so well that I wanted to share it here. It may help some of us that are still grieving to know that we are not alone. I would want to share this same advice with anyone that reaches out asking us how they can help their grieving friend.
Alright, here goes. I?m old. What that means is that I?ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I?ve known and loved did not. I?ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can?t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here?s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don?t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don?t want it to ?not matter?. I don?t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it.
Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can?t see.
As for grief, you?ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you?re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it?s some physical thing. Maybe it?s a happy memory or a photograph.
Maybe it?s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don?t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you?ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.
But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what?s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything?and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it?s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O?Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself.
And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you?ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don?t really want them to. But you learn that you?ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you?ll survive them too. If you?re lucky, you?ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.
The best thing you can do for a grieving friend is to love them. Be there for them. We are so grateful for those that didn’t have the perfect words to say?but showed up to support us anyway. We understood when they didn’t know what to say, we didn’t know what to say either. Just being there was all we needed. I think it is natural that the first instinct is to withdraw to “give them their?space”, but space was the last thing Brandi and I wanted. While everyone is different, and you know your friends better than anyone, sometimes they just want you to be there to help them manage the waves life will surely throw their way.