To those who know someone who has lost a loved one,
I remember when one of my closest friends’ father was diagnosed with cancer. Besides feeling devastated for her and her family, I was also scared about what I could do and say throughout the process of his treatment to help comfort her and how I could show my support. I know that I am not alone in these feelings of helplessness when a friend is faced with a tragedy. One thing that I knew was that if the unimaginable happened to my friends’ dad, I was going to find out how I could be supportive by searching for information on the topic. I always turn to reading when I am faced with a new challenge or something that is unfamiliar to me. With this in mind, I decided that this time, I would share some of my own ideas that I have come to believe in the last couple of years, in order to perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one, please know that for them, each day is filled with the realization that a person who they loved and who was a part of them, is gone from them forever. There can be no time limit placed on their grief. The pain and sadness will last forever. It may be true that one gets “used” to the idea, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still times when it is unbearably hard to believe that their loved one truly is gone. There is never a time when they should “be over it by now.” There will no longer be phone calls, hugs, shared birthdays, or special moments with their loved one. Please don’t ever expect someone you know to stop thinking about the loved one they have lost.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one, please don’t be afraid to talk about the loss, and more importantly, the person. For a long time after a death, there is focus on just that-the fact that someone passed away. Eventually, we need to start remembering the life of someone more than their death, and that involves talking about their life. It’s okay to make reference to the person who meant so much to your friend and who is now gone. Actually, it’s great to do that. The person you know has been changed by this tragedy, they will never be the same. Their new reality means loving the person they lost by reliving the memories they have, and sharing those memories with other people. This does not mean you have to mention their loved one every time you see your friend, but from time to time please acknowledge both the death, and the life, of the person who meant so much to them. Don’t be afraid to do this. I do not speak for everyone, but chances are your friend feels relieved and even happy to talk about their love one or even just hear their name mentioned in a conversation. Don’t feel that asking about how they are doing, or bringing up their loved one is going to hurl them into a downward spiral of grief. Yes, there may be a few tears at times, but I am confident you won’t be evoking the ugly cry while you’re out for lunch. So, on occasion, please do ask your friend how they are doing. Even better – drop a comment about, or bring up a conversation relating to, their loved one.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one, please remember what I said about their life being forever changed. They are not the same person as before this happened. They can’t be. This might mean that sometimes it is hard to be in social situations where the people they are around were not as affected by the loss as they were. It’s not anything about anger or jealousy, it’s just hard sometimes for these people to watch life go on but to feel that a piece of themselves is missing. At times, they don’t want to go on with their lives because they can’t share it with that special loved one. This may sound morbid, but it can be true. Our greatest joys in life come when we are sharing our lives with those we love. Once one of those people are gone, there is always a shadow behind every happy moment. Your friend is likely doing the best they can to come out from behind that shadow.
What I write here are just my own opinions. I don’t speak for everyone who has lost a loved one, but I know I speak partially for my friend, who lost her dad just a year and a half after his cancer diagnosis. I know I can speak for myself, because I also lost my father. It was unexpected and sudden. A heart attack. These things were not supposed to happen in our lives. We don’t think it’s fair. But they happened, and we keep going. Everyday we think about our dads. We talk about them often. Both their lives and their deaths.
It is sometimes shocking for me to think back on my attitude towards people who have lost loved ones, and how I had no idea what to say or do around them. I don’t think that even the most empathetic person can truly understand what it’s like to lose a loved one, unless they have lost someone as well. However, I hope these words can help you if you are ever faced with a situation like mine. What can you do to make it better for your friend? Honestly, at times nothing will help. But if you are there for your friend, even in silence if the moment demands it, and if you can do these small things from time to time, I bet they will mean the world to your friend. I know they do to me.
Someone who has lost a loved one