I am a different person since Cory died. Grief and death has a way of doing that to us. What I have noticed is people aren’t usually comfortable with talking about death, and it’s certainly not easy to know what to say and do when they encounter someone who has lost a loved one. People WANT to know what to say and do, but they struggle with it. A common interchange, especially immediately after the death, is for someone to say, “Sorry for your loss,” then to try to distract me because they don’t want to upset me. People do not like it when someone cries in front of them either.
A really common reaction when they hear someone has suffered loss is to think, What if that happened to me and my family! This naturally colors how people respond. They may get very emotional as well in my presence, or they may try to avoid being around me because I remind them of unbearable loss. Sometimes I feel my forehead has the letters G-R-I-E-F tattooed across it. It feels like people are almost afraid of me. I understand. And I totally see that people do care, but they just don’t know what to do and say.
Everyone grieves differently, but for me the last thing I want is to be distracted. And if you ask me to have a superficial conversation or to go to a gathering where the atmosphere is superficial, well, you might as well scratch your hands on the chalkboard. The latter would be preferable to the former. What I REALLY NEED is meaningful connection. We can even talk about YOUR problems! I am good with that. Let’s look into each other’s eyes and be fully present, having an encounter where what we relay is important to us. I NEED this to move forward, to heal. People may think that if we discuss your problems, that it would just be adding to my problems. THAT IS NOT SO! This is how it works: When I am engaged and fully present with you, the empathy I give YOU comes back to ME! Crazy, I know. But it’s the way it works for me. So if you want to help me heal, be real, be authentic, connect meaningfully with me.
One way to connect meaningfully with me is to ask sincerely, “How are you doing these days?” Not just some pat question. Actually wait and expect an honest response. Be willing to listen. Inquire into my life and experience. Here’s a BIG HELP: ASK ME ABOUT CORY. Maybe there’s someone else whose child died who would appreciate your inquiry. You will never go wrong by saying, “Would you mind telling me about your child? I want to know more about him/her.” When you do, listen intently. Listen with your heart. That is a sure fire way to help someone feel cared for, seen and heard, which is critical to the healing process.
Be willing to allow me to feel whatever it is I feel. There is a 95% chance I will cry because it just happens. I knew instinctively when Cory died that it would be very healing to allow myself to feel fully. Today I have a deep well of emotions, and they often translate into crying. It’s not always sadness either. When I feel intense love or gratitude, I cry. Don’t be upset by tears. One of my dear friends O’skar Madera sent me a beautiful poem that includes this line:
Ashamed to cry.
For tears are the fingers of God,
Caressing your face,
Soothing your soul.
Sometimes, I just need you to give me a call or text me or send a card. Sometimes I just need a hug. And you can never go wrong by just gazing into my eyes with a warm smile. There’s a lot of healing in being seen, heard and felt.