Stories of Loss: Grieving takes time and everyone grieves at their own pace

(Kendra, young adult)

What emotions did you experience in the first few days? weeks? months? years?

The first few days were extremely difficult. My whole being felt heavy. I was walking around in a daze, yet knew everything that was going on around me.

The first few months afterwards were quite difficult. Every “first” event that occurred after my mom died was like reliving the death. First was Thanksgiving…then the holidays…then New Years…then birthdays…and so on. Sometimes, I’d be fine, and then one trigger would occur and make all of the emotions come rushing back to me.

The first few years, again, were tough. Each year got a little bit easier than the one before, but were still difficult. The first year was probably the hardest of them all – knowing that it was one of many anniversaries to remember; and thinking back at the year that had just passed.

What do you remember or are willing to share from the initial moments after your mom/dad/loved one died?

I knew it was only a matter of time before my mom died, because she was very ill with cancer, and had already slipped into a coma at home. We were all just waiting. When the phone rang in the middle of the night, I knew exactly what it was. So in a way I was prepared for it, but you can never truly be prepared to hear that your mom has died. I remember that I was so concerned about whether she died before or after midnight, because I didn’t want it to be exactly a month after my grandmother died (don’t know why looking back, but it was important to me then to be a different day of the month).

What is it like to loose someone you love? How can you possibly explain this to someone who has never been through it?

I say to my husband often that he’ll never understand how I feel about a lot of things because he’s never gone through what I have, but then sometimes I wish he did go through it so he could understand how I feel. But I would never wish that on anyone, not even my enemy! For me, it’s like losing a piece of you that you can never get back. For a long time, there felt like there was a whole in my heart and in my being that I couldn’t fill, no matter what I did. Everything you thought your life was about changes instantly. My priorities in life changed too. Some things that were really important to me before, all of a sudden weren’t at all important. And the full realization that life truly is too short.

What did friends do in the first few weeks that helped you?

They called/emailed to let me know they were there for me. The first week and a half, I was away from most of my friends to be home with my family. Then I went back to school and back to reality. They’d try to take my mind off of things by taking me out somewhere.

What is helpful for friends to do initially? After a few weeks? a few months? years down the road?

First off, I’ll say that they should NEVER say any of the cliché things that people come up with – they’re not helpful at all. Initially, friends should just be there and support you, whether that be by sitting with you and talking, or taking your mind off of things, or letting you cry to them. After a few weeks, they should gently check in with you and make sure you’re okay, or at least let you know that they’re there to talk if you want to. A few months, again continue to check in.

Years down the road, it’s nice to bring up a memory of the person (if your friend knew your loved one that you lost). If not, to try to talk to you about your memories of the person. Most of my friends don’t remember the anniversary date (or month), but if they did, it would help to know to be more kind and gentle to me in the weeks leading up to the date.

What is a way that friends can help their friend remember their loved one? or honor their passing? or just be supportive in the process?

If the friend knew the loved one, share a favorite story of that person with me. Or ask me to share a story with them if they didn’t know the person. Look through photo albums together, talking about the memories.

To honor their passing, show up at the funeral/wake/etc. Send a donation if one is being asked by the family. Friends can be supportive by being your friend – be there for the person; don’t always be asking if you’re okay (because after a while it gets annoying), but know your friend – know when they’re sadder than usual and try to help them through that period; know when they’re having a rough time of it and ask what they need to help them out. Everyone grieves differently and deals with life differently, so there’s no one way to help support a friend who’s grieving.

Did friends, family, etc. do anything that did not help your grieving process in a productive way?

Anyone that came up to me and told me all of the cliché things (it’s going to be okay; she’s in a better place now, etc.) definitely didn’t help me. I think people say those things to make themselves feel better and because they don’t know what else to say. I’d rather than stand in front of me in silence and just be with me than say those things!

How can friends be supportive after the initial year/period of grieving?

Be there for you. Know what cues to look for that say you’re hurting or feeling things that remind you of the loss. And to not assume that just because time has gone by that you’re cured. There is no cure for grief. You can still feel things decades later, but they’ll be different emotions and less painful. But you’re still missing that person and wishing they were still in your life.

What actions/words/etc. do you remember friends doing or saying while you were grieving?

It’s been almost 13 years, so specific words or actions are a blur at this stage. But I can say this – watching to see how people treated me after my mom passed and how they handled my grief made me realize who my true friends were and who either wasn’t a real friend or just couldn’t handle it.

What advice would you give to someone who is supporting someone in the grieving process? Anything else that you want to share?

It’s not about you, it’s about the person that’s grieving. Don’t take it personally if they snap at you or don’t want to go out to take their mind off of it. Grieving takes time and everyone grieves at their own pace. There are stages of grief (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages) and some people skip stages while others go through them one after the other. Also look out for cues of depression (harder to define with someone who’s grieving versus true depression).

Be there for them, whatever that means to the grieving person. If it means letting them cry it out, or taking them out to forget about things, or telling stories. Or a combination of these kinds of things.

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