What I Now Know About Grief
Today, I was transferring some of my family's favorite recipes from 2017 to my 2018 calendar, so I wouldn't forget where to find them online. When I reached the end of my calendar, I saw the names of several friends penciled in. Next to each friend's name was the name of her loved one who died last year and her loved one's birthday.
The truth about me is that I spent a large portion of my life not making notes like these. Looking back, I realize I was blessed because I hadn't experienced the loss of a close loved one until my early 40's. I also spent several decades not fully understanding the consuming power of grief that many of my friends had experienced earlier.
Thanksgiving marked three years since my dad died from cancer at many would say is a young age. I could go on and on about this precious man who modeled for his lifetime the kindest of human traits. His loss has been felt deeply by me, my children, and my entire family. I still grieve the absence of his deep belly laugh in my life.
Maya Angelou has said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." For many years, I could have cared better for my grieving friends. I'm certain that I still fall short, but I now have a better understanding of what helps comfort a grieving heart.
Here's what I now know about grief:
1. As the friend of someone who has lost a loved one, remember that happy and sad are now forever mixed together for her. Three years has been enough time for some good changes to happen in our family. I definitely have had moments that have brought me genuine happiness like watching all three of my children play basketball for their school teams this season. My nephew will be graduating from high school this June and my mom will be selling her house. From the outside, I'm sure it looks like our family is doing well. We are well, but all of these happy moments are accompanied by wishing my dad could be with us. How he would have loved watching my daughter do her first "pump fake" and score against a much bigger team. I really appreciate when someone acknowledges how much my dad would have enjoyed a specific occasion and I try to remember to do this for my own friends who have lost a loved one. Even in her happy moments, my friend could still be missing her loved one.
2. Significant dates will always matter. I know it's different for everyone, but I miss my dad like crazy on his birthday. That was his special day where he was celebrated. Our family likes to mark the day by toasting him at breakfast and eating his favorite foods. The date he died also brings a flood of negative emotions. I appreciate deeply when a friend remembers it's my dad's birthday and sends me a quick text or encourages me in my sadness around Thanksgiving. These gestures mean so much and they are the reason for the list in the back of my calendar. I want to remember those significant dates for my friends as well. Maybe another day is harder for them, but I still want to communicate "Hey, I'm not sure if this is a hard day for you, but I wanted you to know that I'm thinking of you as you remember your mom."
3. Sympathy meals mean survival and comfort. The meals you take to families in the weeks and months following the loss of a loved one should be ranked as the most meaningful acts you participate in during your lifetime. I am not exaggerating when I say that taking a meal to a grieving friend not only offers nourishment and energy, but it provides comfort and assurance that they will make it through this difficult time with your help. The meals that people brought and sent to my mom's house sustained us for many days. If the fridge had been empty, we wouldn't have eaten. You just don't have the energy. Someone who is grieving needs support to care for herself and her family. Now that I have experienced the gift of sympathy meals, I know how important it is for a family to have meals provided for the days surrounding the funeral. It's also extremely important to check back in to see if a meal would be helpful one, two, or three months down the road. Grieving doesn't stop when the first round of meals has been delivered and a meal that is delivered later validates a friend's grief.
We know that everyone experiences grief differently. What do you do for grieving friends or what kindness has been shown to you during your grief?
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