In spite of the old saying, there is really one thing that is certain in life, and that is that no one gets out alive.
In the past month, two of my friends — both in their 40s — have lost their spouses. A friend is battling her third bout with cancer, this time with a tumor that grew close to her brain stem, and another online friend just lost her baby.
If we live long enough, we will not only know loss ourselves, but we will know and love those who have experienced deep loss.
Grief is a beast. It’s soul-sucking. It will turn your days gray and make dark nights darker. Even simple things — like deciding what to have for dinner — become long-drawn-out problems that have no easy solution.
As confusing and painful as it is to move through grief, it can also be confusing and difficult trying to figure out how to best help someone who is grieving.
Here are some ways to mourn with those who mourn.
Always attend the funeral. It means so much to the family.
Try not to say “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” They won’t. Just pick something you can do and do it.
Be willing to sit with them and let them talk — or not talk. You’re probably familiar with the story of the little girl who helped her neighbor mourn. When her mom asked her how she helped, she said simply, “I cried with her.”
Don’t be afraid to use their loved one’s name. You won’t be “reminding” them of their loss. I promise, they are thinking about them all the time. Honoring them by using their name is healing.
Bring food. When my daughters died, I just could not get back to cooking for about a month. Food after the funeral is sometimes even more welcome than food before the funeral. Ask about food allergies or restrictions and then bring a meal (or more than one). Bring the food in containers that don’t need to be returned.
Supporting a grieving friend is not a one and done. Be there for the long haul. Keep checking in, long after the funeral is over. There is no timeline for grief, but my experience has been that it lasts much longer than our culture seems to think is normal — at least a year and often more.
Know that holidays, birthdays and anniversaries of important days often bring additional grief. Call, send a card or flowers, take them to lunch — something that will let them know that their loved one is not forgotten.
Help take care of everyday tasks. Do kids need to be taken back-to-school shopping? Does the lawn need to be mowed? Groceries purchased? How about taking their garbage cans to the street or even washing laundry? I once had a friend I did not know well take my giant pile of socks, wash them and match them before she brought them back to me. It was a glorious act of service that still touches me.
Get them moving. Exercise can be a great energy booster and endorphin-releaser. Take them walking, golfing, playing a game of tennis — and preferably a physical activity where they can talk while they move.
Get them outside. Take a trip to the mountains, a lake, a beach. Spending time in nature can be so healing.
Help them create a memory book. When my daughter Elizabeth died in 2005, several of my friends took pictures and then each of them did a two-page spread, creating a lovely book for me at a time when I could not have done it myself.
If you don’t know what to say, just stick with “I am so sorry.” A statement meant to be reassuring can really sting. Saying “You can always have another baby” is just as painful as “You can always get remarried.” And any of the ones that imply it is God’s will or somehow they are better off without their loved one? Please don’t.
Grief is a lonely journey and no one can do the grieving for another, but having support along the way makes the road a bit more tolerable and over time, the gift of grief support becomes a treasure.
Holly Richardson, a regular Salt Lake Tribune contributor, is so grateful for those who were willing to mourn with her on the darkest days of her life.