How to Help a Mourner
By Molly Jo on May 28, 2012
I guess this is sort of a "Lessons Learned" post in reverse. Not so much lessons we've learned this last week, but more of a "What To Do" if you're ever in the situation yourself.
One week ago, Dot's boyfriend of over two and half years passed away. In the week since, we continue to experience an amass of emotions and while some people have been wonderfully considerate, we've had some experiences that could have been avoided.
This post is dedicated to helping people on the outside understand how they can (and can't) help someone in mourning.
- Ask us what we need. Some need hugs, some need space. Some need both at different times.
- Understand that everyone mourns differently. While my daughter has chosen to spend most of her available time with her school friends, I've chosen to take a few hours each day to be alone or with a select few close friends. At the end of the day, we spend time together.
- Before you accuse us of being overly emotional, try to find out what's going on. You may not like my posts on Facebook, you may call me a downer... but that was before you read the previous post about our loss. Take time to put things into perspective.
If someone is acting out of character, make sure you understand why before you approach them.
- Not everyone wants to talk about it. But there are times we need to talk. About anything. And sometimes about nothing. Don't be surprised if we decide to ramble.
- Don't keep trying to redirect the conversation back to who we're mourning. We'll talk when we're ready.
- This is not the time to draw attention to yourself. Just because we can't always talk about it, doesn't mean we are ready to listen to stories that are about you in a self-centered way. A well-intentioned friend became upset when we didn't give attention to her ten-stanza poem about our loss. While I respect her creative healing process, it was an inopportune time for her to ask us to give our attentions to such a project.
- Don't compare our current situation with one of your past ones. Don't tell us you know how we feel. And please never say, "It will get better" or "It will be okay". Our hurts are individual. Our feelings are complex and we don't even know how we feel. How can you possibly know us better than we know ourselves? And anyone who's suffered such a loss can tell you, it never really goes away. It will get easier, some day, but right now it's too soon to think about getting better. Right now, we're just trying to remember how to breathe.
- Don't drown us in prayers and Scripture. Mourning, even when done with other people, is a very private, solitary thing. And just as everyone mourns differently, our relationships with God also differ. I know my God, and He knows me, and He will get us through this. But it honestly does not help to hear over and over how the death of a loved one is part of His plan.
- Respect the Mourner when they tell you what they need/want. When I told someone I did not want to be touched or hugged, she did so while stating, "Oh, I don't care. I'm going to anyway." When I said I don't want to talk about it, she said, "Oh, I know..." then proceeded to talk about it to me. This served no purpose other than to make me withdraw even more, given that my desires obviously didn't matter to her.
- When we're ready, let us vent! And be prepared: it won't always make sense, even to us.
- We're going through sadness, anger, confusion... unless we're engaging in unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking or not eating, let us get through it. Don't tell us what we should or should not do. And don't give us books or pamphlets on "how to grieve". If we're crying, we're healing.
- Take control when you need to. My mom and our Second Family stepped up right away to help us just remember what we needed to do: to drive us the first day, to remind us to eat, to cook for us.
- Be there. Be here. Just be around. Let us know that it's okay to call you at midnight when we can't talk. Sit on the sofa when we don't know if we need to talk or cry or be quiet.
- Surround us with gentle love. Encourage us to grieve. Let us laugh, and then cry when we realize we can still laugh. Let us stay as busy as we need to. Of course, if we're staying too busy, settle us down. If we're too isolated, draw us out.
- Dot's friends have been surrounding her constantly. My friends have been calling daily. It's been wonderful to have them all say, "What do you need?" and really mean it. It's been great knowing I can still go to my Mom's every day for that morning coffee and do nothing else but sit in quiet.
- When we're ready to get back to the World, let us take it at our own pace. Don't pressure us to "get out", to socialize, to live. And even if we do, understand that doesn't mean we're back to "normal". In fact, there is no longer a "normal". There is now just a huge Before and After.
- Right now, the fact that the rest of the world hasn't stopped moving and breathing with our loss is baffling. But we're turtles. We'll stick our heads out, look around, and move slowly... when we're ready.
- And we'll need you then as much as we need you know. Even if we don't show it. Even if we don't know it.
- And we're not sure, or may be afraid to say this, but we Love you. We love you for respecting us. For being here with us. For listening to us. We just love you. But now we're afraid you might die, too. So we might try to push you away. Don't let us.
- Just love us.
WE CONTINUE TO LOVE YOU DEEPLY.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Jenkins Photo. Used by permission.
And Frankly, My Dear... that's all she wrote!