I’ve been privileged to hear many personal stories of loss, loss of a loved one or a marriage, or the losses chronic illness brings. These stories have a lot in common. They are stories of feeling overwhelmed and walking around in a fog, having difficulty managing day to day and struggling with disorientation, deep sorrow, and persistent grief. For many mourners, it is as if the floor beneath their feet disappeared and the sense of who they are in the world was shaken apart.
Mourners often mention the sense of feeling abandoned by friends and family. Loved ones say: “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” “Anything you need, just ask.” But, help often doesn’t seem to be there when it is needed and over time, invitations seem to disappear.
I think our failure to connect with each other in sorrowful times is not a reflection of lack of love or caring. Rather, it comes from a perfect storm of grievers who are too overwhelmed to make the call or even to know what to ask for, and family and friends who don’t know what to do in the face of profound loss. Mourners fear they will be thought of as a burden. People who care about mourners fear intruding.
How can those who genuinely care reach out? My suggestion would be to offer your love and support in practical and specific ways over the long term. Even very small acts of connection or help with the tasks of daily living mean a great deal to a person who is experiencing the unmooring that accompanies any major loss. Here are some examples of things you might try:
- Phone just to check in. If there is no answer, leave a message saying you are thinking about them.
- Let them know: “I’ll be over to mow the grass on Tuesday.”
- Shovel the snow
- Say: I’ll be there on garbage day to get it to the curb. What time is good?”
- Ask if your friend or family member would like to talk and then listen
- Cook a little extra when you make a meal or a special dish and bring some over.
- Offer to pick the kids up from school on a specific day and bring them back after dinner.
- Offer to help with specific tasks on a given day. This could be anything from organizing paper work to cleaning, running errands together, picking up groceries or other necessities, or driving to an appointment.
- Continue to make invitations even though it may be a long time before the person coping with loss can manage to do dinner or lunch or coffee or attend a festive event.
These small things do matter. They connect us in times when isolation can be most painful and fear can keep us apart. Please share your own stories of ways people connected or ways you wished people would reach out to you at a time of loss and I will be delighted to add to this list in another post.