“I’m sending love because words are pointless right now.”
When someone you know is grieving, everything in you wants to make them feel better, wants to console them, wants to make them feel whole again.
But everyone grieves on their own time, in their own way, and the only thing you can do is be there. Really, really be there.
Life Coach and Therapist Michelle Quarton discusses one straightforward, undeniable fact about death — one which ironically can add some comfort.
“We’re all in line. We just don’t know where we are in line, and we can’t switch our place in line. The more comfortable we are with the concept of death, the easier it is to embrace or help someone who is going through grief.”
The Depth of Grief Amid Social Expectations
Grief has no pattern.
Grief has no time limit.
Grief has no right or wrong.
Grief has no an expiration date.
And it shouldn’t have to follow social expectations.
Some people grieve the loss of a loved one for a year, while others grieve for the rest of their lives. People also grieve differently, so loved ones can’t expect one person’s experience to mirror another’s.
How someone experiences the death of a loved one depends on age, gender, and culture, as well as the situation.
The Impact of Age
To a child, the death of a loved one can be confusing, and he or she may have many questions and thoughts:
“What does ‘die’ mean?”
“Why is everyone around me crying?”
“Will I ever see Grandma again? Will I see her in heaven? Am I going to heaven too? When?”
“Why do we have to die? Why can’t we live forever?”
“I wish Grandma were here to read me my bedtime story. I miss her.”
Many of these concepts and emotions may never be understood no matter how old we are, but we find our own ways to take solace in the truth, whether it’s through religion, acceptance, or hope.
Changing perceptions about death can make it more bearable, and talking about it more naturally may help give people peace of mind.
“A real man doesn’t cry.”
That stigma has been ingrained in American society since Day One, and that may lead a man who is grieving to hold back. For that reason, his grief might not be as apparent — and possibly mentally and physically unhealthy. Men may find other ways to grieve, such as by seeking solitude or keeping themselves focused on anything else.
This stigma may also affect how others treat him. A boy or a man might not be as embraced as a girl or woman would be after the death of a loved one.
Generally, men tend to grieve silently. It will be internal, and they won’t talk about it as much. Women, on the other hand, are going to be more open to seeking help, crying with friends, and admitting to themselves and others that they are in pain.
Culture, Background, and Situation
The experience is also different based on the situation. The loss of a baby, for example, that a woman has carried to term is going to be significantly different than the loss of someone’s grandmother.
Different cultures have different beliefs about life and death as well as gender roles. Some nations may frown upon a man who cries, for instance, and some religious beliefs welcome death as new life.
Seeing death in a new light — and freely talking about it — may actually help to calm fears as children grow up within various cultures.
Helping a Loved One through the Pain
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
What does that really mean? It’s a kind comment, but still one that is focused on the speaker, not on the griever.
What do you say to help someone who is grieving?
Truthfully, there are no words.
With that in mind, Michelle notes that something more relevant may be, “I’m sending love because words are pointless right now.”
While helping your loved ones cope with grief, allow them to do so on their own time and in their own way … for as long as it takes, even if it takes forever. People think there’s an end to grief after you’ve gone a year or two, Michelle notes, but that’s not the case.
Alisa and Marc Seyburn continue to grieve for their daughter, Shelby, every day, for example.
“With the Seyburns, grief is still present. The anniversary of Shelby’s death comes and goes, but it’s still present,” she said. “How Alisa and Marc deal with their loss is different today than it was then, but it’s still grief … and it’s complicated grief.”
Knowing what to say depends on who you’re saying it to, how well you know the griever, how well you know the person who has died, and the griever’s age, background, and situation.
Unless you’re part of the loss and the grief, there truly isn’t anything you can say. All those sympathy cards are a nice gesture but don’t really capture the depths of the grief.
There really are no words that can take the grievers’ pain away. The grievers must walk the post-traumatic journey on their own. Just being there to cry with them, hold their hand, and help them see that they are not alone may be all you can do — and that just may be enough in the moment.
Stages of Grief: Finding Post Traumatic Growth
The five most well-known stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, with a sixth stage being finding hope and purpose through the grief.
Acknowledging that the death of your loved one is painful is an important foundation for growth, one that can make the griever feel less lonely and less guilty for what he or she may be feeling.
Especially powerful methods of transcending grief through post-traumatic growth is to honor the memory of the lost one in some way: setting up a foundation in her name, as the Seyburns have done; celebrating his hobbies and interests by participating in them; or talking about your loved one regularly with others who understand how you feel.
“You may be grieving for a year or grieving for a lifetime, but within that grief there can be growth,” Michelle said.
When to Seek Help
It is common for grievers to seek solitude — a place where they can allow themselves to feel a deeply personal connection with the one they lost, which can make them feel more at peace.
Everyone goes through stages of grief differently, and if it’s complicated grief, it’s harder to break through the stage of isolation.
If people are isolating themselves to the point that it becomes a health issue, such as by having suicidal thoughts, they may need mental health guidance. If you are concerned about your loved one’s well-being, there are many local resources you can contact for help on their behalf.
Alisa and Marc Seyburn founded the Shelby Jane Seyburn Foundation in memory of their daughter, who died tragically in a vehicular crash when she was only 22 years old.
We know what it means to grieve. We know the feeling of the emptiness in your heart that simply won’t go away.
We also know what it’s like to find purpose and meaning, to understand that you can go on while continuing to cherish the one you lost.
If you or your loved one needs our support, we are here for you.
The What’s Your Grief website provides a wealth of educational articles regarding grief awareness to help those are grieving, as well as those who are trying to support those who have lost a loved one. www.whatsyourgrief.com
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress. 1-800-273-8255
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services warmline connects individuals with certified peer support specialists who have lived experiences of behavioral health issues, trauma, or personal crises and are trained to support and empower the callers. 1-888-PEER-753