Five Tips to Comfort the Grieving

Maybe it is The Gilded Age viewing, but I have been noting some social mores and trends when it comes to mourning and grieving.

First, condolences. It is not 1893. You most likely have a cell phone, email, Messenger, or a myriad of communication tools. Extend your condolences directly to the grieving person. Not their spouse, not their best friend, not the mail carrier on their way to the door. You aren’t imposing when you send kind thoughts. You are copping out when you do so indirectly. I don’t want to see your calling card at the door. Don’t tell other people how sorry you are for my loss. That’s tacky and evasive. If you know me, tell me. Period.

Second, mourning rituals may channel, but do not erase hurt, pain, and anger. It is okay to be angry about death. Don’t try to tamp that down to make yourself or anyone else comfortable. If you cannot cope in the face of someone’s deep anger about the searing end of a lifelong complicated relationship, that’s about you. Yes, you should try to push through and show up the best that you can. You don’t have to fix the anger – that’s not your job. But you should acknowledge it and allow it to exist in the moments between you and the bereaved. That also doesn’t mean you should tolerate abusive behavior, but there’s a lot of gray area in between. Being angry doesn’t always or even most of the time mean being abusive. Suggesting someone is abusing you because they are being disruptive in how they cope with loss is just absurd.

Don’t tell other people how sorry you are for my loss. That’s tacky and evasive. If you know me, tell me. Period. 

Third, time disappears when you are grieving, folding on itself and reconfiguring your days and nights into a mish-mash of things that used to be and today’s household tasks. The repairman comes to look at the wonky microwave and I’m lost in reverie of the mammoth microwave my father proudly brought home circa 1980 and the emphasis about not using silverware or aluminum foil and the heavy clicking sound of the door and the need to turn things ourselves (heavens!) and the sheer enormity of its size on the county, requiring me to stand on a stool to be able to move it around to clean it. Flashes of an appliance that changed our lives but remained in our home for over 15 years just swept over the few minutes Mr. Spirko was talking to me. It was less than two minutes and years at the same time. I’m not thinking about the memory, I’m reexperiencing it in an alternate dimension. So when I don’t reply to your text in what seems a typical amount of time, my sense of typical time has changed. It might come back. Or maybe it never existed that way in the first place?

Fourth, casseroles. Don’t say casserole and not show up with that dish of comfort and soothing tones.

Finally, show up. You might do it wrong, you might stumble and fumble and feel awkward. But sometimes just sitting in companionable silence with someone who genuinely cares if you are okay is the most important thing in the world. Don’t send 14 Messenger paragraphs on me about your woes. Tell me something light, test the waters. But show up without any expectation in return. I may not pick up the phone, return the text, like the meme. But that’s not the point – it isn’t about your actions being validated. It is simply about showing up.

All of this is about showing up, being present, listening, centering the bereaved, acknowledging feelings, and reminding the person that they are not truly alone even when it feels like it.

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me wherever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all

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