The things I’ve learned about grief. Not an exhaustive list. Just a few things.
1). When you bring food: it’s not just about getting us fat, or taking something off the plate of the mourners. It’s about something even deeper. When you bring a meal to a grieving family, it gives them a space to come and sit down together at the table. If you give a grieving wife a meal, she’ll share it with her kids and her grandkids. The kids and the grandkids may come to the table. Sitting together, they’ll talk. And cry. And laugh together.
2). When you send cards or well wishes: it helps fill a bowl of comfort near those mourning. Maybe you don’t know what to say. Do we ever know what to say? But when you say something, anything, it’s heard. It’s felt. It gets added to the refilling of the heart pile. You know and they know it replaces nothing and no one. But what it does do is spread love, and holds space.
3). Mourners are scary to the outside world. They are a walking reminder of the thing we all live in fear of. And for a moment in time, they are living it. Their homes become places we used to love to visit, now are maybe doors we find ourselves shaking while knocking upon. The tasks they have to do, the phone calls they have to make all remind the outside world what we know; it’s inevitable. And someday that pain will be mine. And someday after that, that pain will belong to my loved ones. But if they let you in; go. If they want to share pictures and stories and empty spaces in closets; go. Grieving exposes a gaping wound; take a deep breath, and join them.
4). Grieving makes you miss everyone and everything you have ever lost. It’s cumulative. I believe that’s why the wave it brings roars only louder and louder as the days pass. It reminds you of all that loss, of all the unexpected change you’ve had to face. I guess that’s just part of the process of it all, and there’s no use fighting it (there’s no use fighting anything, really). You lean in. And you hang on. And you cry.
5). And also; don’t try to stop the mourner from crying. Crying is a bizarre gift. When I was a kid I was somehow put under the impression that it was bad. That it was holding onto pain. But my gosh, crying releases pain. It’s just so hard to watch sometimes. So keep an eye on each other. Comfort the loved ones of the ones who can’t stop crying. Comfort the ones who can’t seem to start crying. Whatever goes. Not being able to soothe your next of kin is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in this life so far. So take care of the mourner and also take care of those taking care of them.
6). And finally- grief is surprisingly stupid silly in the moment when you realize sometimes it includes a crap load of laughter. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard before. Or cried so hard. Or felt more loved. Or felt more sad. It’s just, all of it. It’s all of it. Just make sure no one you know is having to do it alone.