For those who have never lost a loved one, it is easy to take life for granted. But there is an altered sense of normalcy for people who are left living after the loss of a spouse, child, family member, or friend. So for those of us who have not yet gone through such a tragic event, how do we learn how to comfort those who weep when no one is looking or feel self-guilt for years after a loss?
In my work as a counselor, I was not truly able to relate to the loss and the feelings that come along with that loss until my own husband passed away from cancer a little over three years ago. Those of us who have not lost a significant other have no idea what it is like to face the many sleepless nights and the worry and concern you have for others in the same grieving process, which, in my case, consists of four of my children who have now have lost both their biological parents to the same cancer. To this day, I still deal with the thought of moving on and what that looks like. I now understand those overwhelming feelings that come in waves through the different seasons that follow tragedy.
Being aware and caring for our friends and family who have lost a significant person in their lives is the reason National Grief Awareness Day exists.
Priceless Gifts You Can Give to a Grieving Loved One:
Understanding - What was normal for that person no longer exists. Even simple things such as making coffee, taking out the trash or preparing a meal are a completely different experience now. They will miss the little things, such as how a spouse knew all of the small preferences they had. A person who lost a sibling may have regrets of not being there enough for their brother or sister. A parent experiencing the unimaginable loss of a child will face the painful realization that a parent usually dies before their children instead of the other way around. And a grieving son or daughter will miss the moments that a parent should be there for, such as the birth of their own first child.
Patience - The person who is experiencing grief lies in bed staring at the ceiling and tries to handle all the new changes and responsibilities all at once. This can sometimes result in depression, anger, or a combination of the two. During this time, it is so important to just be there to support and listen. Don't leave them, even if you do not understand their emotional responses.
Love - Even when you don't understand what they are going through, loving them through the loss and the grief is life changing. Stick with them and don't give up showing them how much you care.
Compassion - Feel for them and weep with them. It is ok to be sad with them, even years later.
Time - In my experience with grief and loss, I have to give credit to some of my children. They constantly came and spent time with me, especially during significant days such as our wedding anniversary. For the past few years, one of my sons has planned the most beautiful Valentine's Day dinners for me at one of my favorite restaurants, Tommy Bahamas's down in Laguna Beach. These dates with him create new happy memories that I will not forget. Another son and his wife took me out and bought me my Christmas tree when I didn't feel like decorating a tree myself. Thanks to them, it lit a fire under me to fully celebrate the Christmas season, and I was so so glad they did that. What gifts!
Kindness - This quality is key. There were so many who have been kind to me through everything I have walked through even to this day. I just cannot describe how kind people have been to me. It makes me tear up just thinking about it.
On top of the priceless gifts you can give a loved one, a practical gift at the right time can be a great blessing as well. After my loss, a friend brought food for my family, gave me a hug, then quietly left. None of us wanted to talk, but were so thankful for that practical gift. Home-cooked meals, along with restaurant gift cards, lasted us several months during a time when I did not feel like even cooking.
Handwritten notes - A beautiful note given close to the one year anniversary of the loss would be a very nice thought. A person going through grief may feel very lonely, and the simple thought that you were thinking about them during this difficult time would be very comforting!
Financial donations - Money is greatly needed for funeral expenses, travel expenses, and other related things. I was given to so generously that I did not have to worry about any finances during that time and not one person ever expected anything from me in return. My children and I were so blessed by all that others had done.
A Plant- I was given two plants: one lavender (my personal favorite) and a rosemary plant, which I was able to plant in memory of my husband and still brings me joy. They were very thoughtful and kind gifts.
A gift box - You can choose to give a special, thought out gift such as a gift crate with a candle, a small succulent, and some tea or coffee.
Just knowing you are aware that the grieving person is being thought about is so very special. These little ways that show you care will affect that person's life far greater than you can ever imagine and will give them comfort through their darkest days.