One of the hardest parts of loss for us has been that we have also lost friends and relationships in the process. There are a variety of reasons why this has happened. But, the most common thing we hear is that people, regardless of how close we are in proximity and feeling, “don’t know what to say.”
And look, I get it. I really get it. I walked a path of loss and still, when a person who I care about is walking that path, I get paralyzed. I get paralyzed because I know the pain. I do not want anyone to ever experience it. But more than that, I know that there is absolutely nothing to say. No words take the edge off the pain. So while I know the pain, I am no better than the gen pop when it comes to “knowing what to say.”
But I say something anyway. I put my own feelings aside for their’s that far surpass my feelings of inadequate words.
You should, too.
When we were in the hospital after our loss and after we got home, I was legitimately afraid to see people. If there was a knock at my door or if someone offered to stop by, I would stop in my tracks. What if I cried in front of them, what if I could not stop crying in front of them, what if I puked, or what if I scared them? I was terrified. But someone told me somewhere in my grief process that the best thing anyone ever did for them was to say, “I am going to hug you until you want me to stop.” And that is it, y’all. People in crisis do not need you to say anything, to look at them with pitiful eyes, or tell them that you are so sorry. They need to be held just like a toddler who has just fallen and scraped their knee. The question is whether YOU are strong enough to show up and do the hugging.
Let me shed a little more light on how you can show up and do everything in your power to take the edge off of your friend’s pain, whatever the cause:
One of the most beautiful gifts I have been given is the that of listening. I do not need your input, advice, or the story of what happened to your mom’s neighbor. I just need you to listen — to the good, the bad, and the really hard to hear. Sometimes still, after a really long day or a glass a wine, I find myself opening up to one of my best friends with more intimate details of our experience. The healing continues even years later.
It is like this — if I am strong enough to say the words out loud and to a person who is willing to hear, I am able to put the words out in the world and off of the treadmill in my mind.
I know. I know I said I was paralyzed with fear to see people after our loss. And I was. But I know now that as terrified as I was, it was the ones who showed up anyway that saved us in through this whole thing. We had several people who continued to call, continued to knock, and continued to show up to “just drop off dinner.”
I know if you are a big boundaries person, your sirens are going off. And I get it. I like to keep my nest pretty private, too. But in crisis, you cannot let your people stare at the same four walls and not show up. Even if they do not want you there, you will save them. They will be so grateful in the months and years to come.
I mentioned this briefly but want to get a little more into it here. I am not talking about the hugs where just our shoulders touch and we quickly back away from each other. You know that kind? No, I am talking about the soul cleansing hugs — the ones your give to your friend when she returns from being out of town for what feels like forever, or the kind your give to your kid when it has been an exceptionally hard day adulting. I need you to give your friend in need a hug until they are ready to let you go. Do not let go when you have had enough, when you start to sweat, or when your boundary sirens are going off. You don’t let go. You wait for your friend to let go. Hold them.
And look — I doubt I have many male readers.
But I need to say this a little louder for the people in the back.
THIS APPLIES TO MEN, TOO.
Guys, you need to be hugging your friends when they need it. No one is going to question your masculinity. But I know for a fact that hugs are healing and not just for women.
I wish my husband had more friends willing to show up physically and hug it out with him when he needed it most.
Pray with specifics — and share the specifics with your friend
We have a tendency to say, “I am praying for you.” And for the most part, I really do think we are praying for each other. And saying it is good and doing it is better. I do not by any means what you to stop telling people you are praying for them. And in some scenarios, saying just that is most appropriate. But something that has really helped me on both the receiving end and the giving end is to pray with specifics. For example, if you have a friend who is going through a really bad breakup, maybe something like, “I am praying for healing and that you find peace and self-care in your alone time.” Or maybe, “I am praying that you are able to see some good in this, even if its just that no one can complain about how much you spent at Target.”
The point is — put some thought into it. Please do not just utter the words and go about your day. Pray specifically and tell them about it. Your specific prayer intention may even put the pray in their minds in a way they had not thought of it before.
Bring it up
I know. I am asking a whole lot of you. But what I am asking of you is far less difficult than the struggle your friend is facing.
Do not meet your friend for lunch or coffee or anything and not bring it up. Bring it up. If they stop you and even if they get mad at you for bringing it up, then that is that. But bring it up anyway. Let them decide if it is a good time to talk about it. I guarantee you that it is on their mind. You are not bringing something to the surface that they are not thinking about. People have told us before that they did not want to mention Theo or bring him up because they did not want to make us sad. Y’all. He is our son. He is our son that is not here.
We do not get to include him in the headcount to make sure we are not leaving anyone behind because he left us behind.
It does not matter if it has been four months or four years since the hardship. In our case specifically, say his name. Say his name without a pitiful look in your eyes because we worked hard on his name.
So there you have it. This is what I have learned in dealing with grief and the grieving. When someone whom I love is hurting these days, my arms instantly ache to hug them. When my husband is hurt or sick or stressed these days, I cannot stop hugging him. Because it is the most powerful thing I have to give — to hug like the mama I am.
I hope it helps you be a better friend. I hope this post, if nothing else, allows you to put yourself aside to be there when someone you love really needs you. So go listen. So hug until they are ready to let you go.
I promise it might even do your soul some good.