It’ll sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. You were having a perfectly acceptable day, then you see that book or car, drive by that place, or catch a whiff of that smell, and suddenly you’re a wreck. Everyone around you consoles you for the first few weeks, even months. But life goes on for them – as it should. A year passes, and they wonder why you aren’t yourself. Maybe they tell you you just need to get out more. Go to church. Exercise more. Work more. Work less. Find a hobby. Pray. Take a vacation. Eat better. Sleep longer. Whatever the response, what they can’t seem to grasp is the fact that you are forever changed. You can’t be yourself, because you are no longer who you were when it happened. Part of your heart is missing, and doing more or less won’t ever change that.
Grief is said to be a, “Multi-faceted response to loss, particularly the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed.” The effects are seen emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively, and socially. There is no area of life that is left untouched by it.
Before I experienced grief, I was one of the vast majority who cared, but didn’t understand. I had many friends who had dealt with real, deep pain and grief in their own lives, and though I tried to be there and listen, I admit that after a time I would start to make those fantastically unhelpful suggestions. Personally coming from a very religious standpoint, I’d tell people that they needed to, “give things up to God.” I honestly thought that was the solution – that is what I had been told since I could understand words. If someone seemed sad, withdrawn, or depressed for more than “the allotted” period of time (who decides that, anyways?), I’d want them to get better. And if they didn’t, I couldn’t understand it; I didn’t have a reference point to explain why someone was still in pain. So perhaps I’d let a morsel of judgement sneak into my mind about their ability to deal with life as I saw it.
And then one day, things forever changed for me. I suddenly knew what grief was, and it wasn’t at all what it looked like from the outside. I experienced the responses of many different people, some who understood and some who did not. The pain I felt was amplified by the words of so many who were only trying to help, but in reality made things so much more difficult.
A number of those close to me have experienced searing, life-changing loss in the past few years. My heart breaks to hear their stories of the outsider’s response to their grief. It’s the same story over and over again. It seems like there is a club – those who know grief, and those who don’t. And all it takes for those on the outside to be able to help is for them to honestly acknowledge that they don’t truly understand, be quiet, and listen.
Thus, my non-psychologically researched recommendations goes something like this: If someone you know experiences some kind of significant loss, whatever that be, let go of your perceptions of what they need. Stop talking. Stop judging or drawing conclusions, and just sit and be with them. There is no time table for healing, as much as want there to be one. Let them talk if they need to. Let them cry if they feel like it, or laugh hysterically at the smallest things. Remember that things will never be the same for them, no matter how much time has passed. Your life continues on, and so does theirs, but it will take them quite awhile to figure out what life looks like under the grey haze of loss. So relax – you don’t need to fix them. You just need to listen.