For way too many souls, today is the FIRST Valentine’s Day without their beloveds. And as one such mourner of my dear friend, and as a Certified Grief Coach I share some thoughts in the hope(s) that they may prove valuable, or of some semblance of comfort, to each and every one of us feeling the profundity of our grief; in large measure an indication of the depth of our love.
I do this, all the while knowing that with some word(s) I will surely upset or offend some. Please accept my apology, in advance, and grace us all with your comments, so that we may ALL learn better, to grieve.
If you’ve ever uttered the words, “I know how you feel” to any grieving person, I implore you
to have that be the last time that phrase spills from your lips.
First of all, you don’t.
Second, it’s NOT about you.
The comment “I know how you feel”, immediately shifts the focus/attention from the chief mourner to the one uttering those words.
Chapter 3 of my book, My Husband Died Now What? A Widow’s Guide to Grief Recovery and Smart Financial Decisions is entitled Stupid-Ass Things People Say!
The sad and piercing irony is, that the empathy one no doubt intends with that phrase lands QUITE differently–anything from a piercing dagger to a kind of “that does not compute” feeling/fog, insomuch as the chief griever doesn’t even have a handle on how they feel from minute to minute, let along hour to hour…day to day? Forget it.
Of course as in most instances in life, if we were to stop to THINK of the insanity of that, we’d never do it again. For example, imagine a patient in the Emergency Room, awaiting and expecting treatment, and the doctor comes in, looks at the patient in their pain, and slaps a band-aid on their own forearm, staring at the patient. What I understand from my study and experience regarding the chief mourner(s) follows:
- They carry (or are bent over with) the greatest injury, the most excruciating pain.
- They need and deserve the space that others who love them can indeed hold for them, in order to ricochet from being mute to enraged, from being frozen in stoic silence to sustained sobbing.
- They deserve to be asked their opinion or input on certain items or ceremonies, realizing their answers may take time.
- They may utter, “I don’t care” or “I don’t care about any of it”. Allow those words space. And for important matters (whatever those are) circle back hours or the next day with, “Earlier I heard you say you didn’t care, yet IF you were to care, can you share any of that?”
- Your mentioning their beloved’s name will NOT remind them of their death; they will never forget that.
- They LOVE to hear the name of their beloved stated out loud, it’s a comfort and; a recognition they are NOT forgotten, yet remain in their midst.
- They will change their mind; extend the ability and space for that. Expect it. Embrace it.
- And above all, they’ve got to feel to heal.
In the complex journey of grief, I implore those who love these chief mourners to:
- Sit beside them, silently. Without expectation.
- Place a tissue box or handkerchief within their reach for THEM to access, rather than thrusting one into their hands which can be interpreted either as, “Don’t cry” or “Stop Crying”
- Give them a chance to explore their feelings, put some definition to them, if, and as they wish. Or not.
- Refrain from judging—feelings, emotions, thoughts—leaving all shoulda, coulda, wouldas out of conversations.
- Listen to their stories.
- Relay your own stories or memories of the deceased, uttering their NAME often.
Especially, as we are still in the horrid throes of the ravaging effects of Covid, in which hundreds of thousands of families face this Valentine’s Day without at least one of their beloveds, any mantra of masks not working, refuting either the reality of the pandemic or the multitudes of resulting deaths is nothing short of gaslighting….and for the sake of our grieving brothers and sisters and spouses and partners, if not for the civility and future of our country and planet, I implore you, STOP IT.
Whether ones’ beloved’s death was expected or not, the grief tsunami takes a massive toll. In the cases of sustained caregiving, the chief mourner suffers degrees of their own impaired health. In the cases of sudden deaths, the massive impact of such shock on the chief mourner is incalculable, extraordinarily surreal.
And with each FIRST (as well as each subsequent anniversary) piling on yet additional hurt and sadness, it’s helpful when friends check in with a text or card or call—leaving a voice message in the case where the bereaved can’t bear to pick up; it will be a terrific comfort to listen to, when, and as, they are able.
Almost anything can trigger a grief response, from the more obvious; i.e., watching the florist walk up your neighbor’s sidewalk delivering a gorgeous floral arrangement, to hearing “your song”, to smelling “that scent”, to your eyes scanning past dozens of books on your shelf landing on that ONE gifted book with that eternally sweet inscription, to enduring
endless ads on every medium imploring us to “give something special” to our Valentine. If you don’t know what to say, or do, yet want to show support, consider texting “I don’t know what best to say, or do, yet I’m remembering you (and _____ ) today and sending you my thoughts/love”.
In closing, this Friday I gathered my mail and a single red envelope leapt out (from the sea of white third class junk mail & the grocery flyers covered with pictures of roses on the front). A friend of mine had sent me a Valentine’s card. I couldn’t even open it for several hours…it lay on my kitchen table, as I wept.
After opening my card & reading her words, I texted her my appreciation of her thoughtfulness. She texted back, “I thought you would appreciate it. I know it’s a tough time and probably the first time in forever that you won’t have a card from V.”
I wish each of you well in your physical-or-virtual-or-ethereal celebrations of love—today.
Love is all there is. Long Live Love.
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