I think this stems from a fear of death. I’m not a fan of death, but I do not fear death. I think we do all kinds of things to save us from looking death in the eye. One of those things is not going to memorials or funerals. We will all die and those we love will and our friends’ loved ones die. I am convinced that our grief has everything to do with the physical loss of the person in our lives. We should not feel ashamed of the pain of loss in not seeing those we love at our tables or in our gardens. Knowing our own pain in the loss of someone, I think enables us, if we are fearless, to reach out to others in their loss. From the side of the family who is grieving the loss of the loved one, I know how much it has always meant to me to have other people who knew him or her, come through the line hug me or come up to me at the wake and tell me a story. Those are all powerful moments. We have the power within us all to reach out in these dark moments in our friends lives and help them to move through the early stags of grief and shock with these small acts of love.
Here are some practical things to do when a friend has lost someone:
1) Show up at the wake, or funeral.
2) Tell them you are sorry. Do not talk about any spiritualized ideas of death you might have. Do not tell them it is for the best or God’s will. Do not tell them they are in a better place. Tell them you are sorry for their loss. You can tell them a story about the person or what they meant to you. Keep it short.
3)Ask them if they need anything or if you can drop off some soup or food that can be frozen. When a person is active in grief, he or she might welcome having nutritious food in the freezer.
4) Be present with them. By this I mean, let them be themselves. Take care to check your own emotions. Don’t let your fear of pain get in your way. People grieving do not have a disease. Keeping your distance may be more hurtful than stumbling your way through a conversation. Grieving can take so much energy, just allow the person you love to talk about what they need to or want to. Offer to go to the movies or have them over for a low key evening.
5) Don’t rush a person through grief. You might be over the loss, but they might not be. They might not be grieving in a way that makes sense to you, but unless it is truly harmful, let it be for some time. (When the towers fell in NY in 2001, I spent then next few months providing tea for those at work . I would purchase teacups from second hand shops and keep tea in a pot on my desk. Granted, it was a bit odd, but it helped me deal with what I saw as the loss of civilization. Grief can be odd…)
6) Remember to love.