When people you love suffer bereavement it can be a struggle to find the right words to say (if indeed words can help in any way). This is one situation where there is no solution because the simple truth is that there is loss, pain and heartache and no person can take that away.
Platitudes seem hollow
Time is the greatest healer, that is definitely true but it can sound like a hollow platitude if you offer it as comfort and what difference does it make today? Perhaps a hug, and allowing someone to talk or stay silent is the best we can do to support them emotionally.
That and the promise that you are here for them and not just now when things are raw and there is a flurry of activity and support from friends, family, neighbours and the community but later too. To be there for them whenever they want to talk about that loss, or cry or be angry or sad and hopefully, to share stories of the good, funny and lovely times.
Some time ago, I read the passages that I share below. This seemed to me, a good way to explain the process of grief and I thought it was honest appraisal of its nature that offered some comfort. I share it now in the hope that it will help those who are suffering from now and those who will suffer in the future, because death and dying will affect us all in some way at some time, no-one is exempt.
I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not.
I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mum, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents…
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. But I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it.
Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.