Words that help

One of the grief tribe members asked me to write a blog about what to say to their profoundly grieving person. In my experience, explaining why certain things aren’t helpful, rather than continuing to let people say unhelpful things, is a good thing, not least because those who genuinely care about your wellbeing will take your feedback on board, and change their behaviour. Those who care less about you, and are more concerned about being seen to do the ‘right’ thing will take offence at your honesty and likely dismiss you for being ungrateful. This has definitely happened to me. But those are the people who will not feature in your life for much longer.

If you want to know how your person is surviving, ask the following: ‘how was today?’, or ‘how has this week been’. The answer to the ‘how are you?’ question will remain the same for years – often said inside our heads, or if you’ve reached the stage where you can only speak your truth (big hint – I have, no surprises there), “how the f*** do you think I am?!” When I am asked that question I’m either going to ignore the person, because if they’re genuinely part of the support network they won’t have asked it, or I’m going to give you an answer you’re unlikely to forget any time soon.

Ask your person for the key dates that are likely to cause even more pain, so that you know when they’re likely to feel even shittier. A supportive text on these dates can mean the world – trust me. Such texts have often literally been my lifeline since Rich died. One of the few things keeping me tethered to earth. Even though we lived together Rich used to send me lots and lots of messages every day, declaring love and affection, and the absence of those has left a huge void. Of course we’d tell each other in person serveral times a day too. From day one he wanted me to know for sure that I knew he loved me, and me him, and we never let the other just assume this. Every day without fail, for almost ten years.

Ask your person what would help them, and receive their answer with grace. When you’re living yours (and everyone else’s) worse nightmare, you can’t help but be authentic. You see social convention for what it often is, a means of suppressing certain emotions, so why would you pretend to be any way other than you really are? Yes not everyone around you will be able to tolerate the more truthful you, but others will want to be around someone who is so authentic, and those are the people to treasure.

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