Silence is deafening in grief… and so often people don’t know what to say… so they say nothing at all which leaves the bereaved feeling alone and isolated.
Most people don’t know what to say in the face of such a huge loss… really all people need to do is listen and be present. It’s okay if you feel awkward and don’t know what to say, you can acknowledge that. Some of the loveliest messages I’ve received start with ‘I don’t know what to say, this is so horrible’ – that itself is so powerful as it acknowledges the pain and huge sense of this unimaginable loss.
All grieving people need is to know that people are there and listening, without judgement. Acknowledge how awful this is, tell someone how sorry you are for this loss and listen to their pain. Let them ramble and vent and be open to witnessing their pain. You don’t have to do much to be a good listener, just don’t do platitudes or advice and just be present and be there for us. Silence is so deafening in grief which compounds pain, often wrecks friendships and leaves the grieving even more isolated and takes a toll on mental health. We live in a culture that doesn’t talk openly and honestly about death and bereavement and runs scared of these conversations. If you have a friend who has lost someone, ask them how they are today (if you’re open to hearing the answer), mention their loves name because it will help. Death is a part of life yet we run scared of it due to awkwardness. We want to say their names and tell their stories. We want to smile at those memories but we also want to cry when the pain overwhelms us… all these conversations need to be heard.
We want to share it with you on the bad days and the good, but we’re stuck in a culture that tries to shut down pain.
There’s some great resources out there about how to help your grieving friend, how to listen to their pain and practical support you can offer. WAY – Widowed and Young gathered some of the best things to say (and not to say) to someone who’s been widowed. Dying Matters created this wonderful guide on supporting the bereaved. Refuge in Grief has many resources on how to help a grieving friend.
Overall, the most powerful thing you can do for your grieving friend is listen. Don’t shy away from pain and grief… please witness us and hold space for us in this grief.
To help with understanding your grieving friend more, here are some grief myths and facts.
Grief isn’t linear… no two paths look the same, so be kind to yourself and don’t compare where you are with others. There are no timelines or rights and wrongs in being widowed at a young age. Grief will constantly move, adapt, be fluid in nature… do whatever feels right for you. Don’t be surprised when your grieving friend doesn’t feel better in 6 months, a year, 2 years… grief is life long and even overcoming shock takes a long time.
Grief is ongoing and lifelong… The grieving need support at different times, life stages and years to come. Our grief moves with us as life moves forward and changes. We need support through the highs and lows of this new life that none of us asked for. It’s natural when moving through this new life that grief moves with us and changes and has new challenges as we adapt… it lives within us.
The grieving are often told we should ‘move on’ to ‘gain closure’… the truth is grief is a lot more nuanced and complex than this. We don’t move on, we move forward and grief changes, moves and adapts we do. We learn to carry loss with us through this new life. Whether the new post grief life means finding new opportunities, new work, new love… we still carry our love and our grief with us. It moves with us.
Talking about and expressing your grief and love is emotionally healthy. There is no right or wrong way to grieve… and talking about both your love and pain can help.
Kindness is saying their name. It’s such a simple act but one of the kindest things you can do for someone who’s lost their partner… you won’t remind them of their pain so don’t be scared, their grief and love is on their mind anyway. By mentioning their name you’re reminding them that other people remember and care too.
Love is not measured in time or marriage certificates. Love is love. Some think that because someone wasn’t married or they didn’t get much time together on this earth that their grief is somehow less… no matter of time or marriage certificates, a young widowed person has lost their person. They’ve lost the future hopes and dreams and life they should have been sharing with their person. That grief is just as real and just as valid, no matter of time or paper.