“If there’s anything I can do… please let me know.”
If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you’ve heard those words spoken. On the phone, in person, accompanied by a hug or a handshake, written inside a sympathy card…
And if you’ve ever anxiously stood by while a friend suffered through the process of grief and mourning a death, you’ve probably said the same thing yourself — meaning every word of it, too.
“If there’s anything I can do…” is usually born of a sense of helplessness, don’t you think? We ache for the friend who is in pain, we want to reach out and “fix” everything, but so often we just don’t know what to do.
So, what really does help, when someone you care about is struggling to come to terms with a sudden loss?
The answer is probably different for each individual, as we all react differently to different emotional situations —
I’ll bet you know someone who craves a big hug for comfort, for example, and others who turn inside their emotional wall to present a stoic face to the world. Me, I’m all in favour of the hugs. In fact, a physical touch is often a good start. Put an arm around your friend’s shoulder, and that touch can cut right through the awkwardness of searching for the right words…
Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to hear all the wonderful memories that different people treasure. To me, this man might be a father — but to these other people, he was a childhood playmate, a fellow student, a companion in adventure, an “old flame” or life-long friend, a respected colleague, and so on. Catching a glimpse of these other roles can only add depth to my own memories… and help me to feel that the life that has now ended was one of great richness and worth: a good life, well lived. And there is real comfort in that.
I’m still in the process of sorting it out in my mind, what that “anything” is that a friend might do… and by an interesting coincidence, I just came across this ebook on how to help the bereaved, that offers to help with:
* writing a condolence letter when someone loses a loved one
* how to offer to help without causing offence
* how to really listen to your bereaved friend
* cooking and shopping for the bereaved
* helping with children and teenagers
* helping with the mountain of paperwork that bereavement brings
* how to make holidays and short breaks fun again
* doing odd jobs around the house and garden
* being there for the long haul
* buying the right gift
Now, I haven’t read the book yet — just came across the mention of it this evening — but the very fact of its existence did make me think.
As the years roll on by, as Donna reflected, more and more of us are experiencing the loss of a parent or other loved one… and yet, all the old Victorian conventions of etiquette have been misplaced, and we no longer know what to do beyond buying a sympathy card.
“If there’s anything I can do…”
One thing I can tell you, if you’re the one who is bereaved:
it is possible that the greatest comfort may come to you from reaching out to comfort others.
Yes, there will be times when you just want to shut the doors and put your head down and howl like a wounded wild animal — but when you can, rise above and reach out. There is no more sure way of knowing, heart-deep, that you’re not alone.
Allowing others to give their condolences, remembering that they too may have been through the same experience recently, and welcoming their memories of the deceased — in short, trying to put the focus on comforting those who are also grieving the loss — there is a remarkable peace to be found in looking outward and giving back.
That’s my experience, anyway.
What do you do to help, when a friend is grieving?
What has a friend done that you find has helped you to carry on, when life is tough?