I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different reactions that people have when it comes to grief. A few years ago the mum of one of my best friend’s died. She was such a wonderful lady, my mum was very poorly when I was younger and my friend’s mum, Viv, often had me over after school or at weekends, looked after me, hugged me, made me laugh. When she died I found it incredibly hard to know how to support my friend. Looking back this was partly because I was dealing with my own grief but mainly because I just couldn’t imagine being in such a horrible situation. I couldn’t imagine losing my mum. I felt bad that my mum had fought cancer and won and yet her mum had battled so hard but just couldn’t beat it. It took me a few days to put it all into context in my head and work out that it really wasn’t about me. I tentatively got in touch but I put the ball very much in her court for meeting up. It’s so hard to know what to do for the best. Should you be proactive? Turn up on the doorstep of a grieving friend with cake and a box of tissues? How long do you wait? How do you know if you’ve left it too long? There is no rule book and everybody is different but now that I have experienced the loss of Lentil I feel better equipped to help friends who are grieving in future.
In the first few days after Lentil died I found it hard to look at my phone or cards that arrived. Cards were left unopened and texts went unread but they were there for us to read when we were ready. Thankfully we had lots of family around to support us and they opened the door to receive flowers and parcels for us. It was lovely to receive these gifts but we were glad that we didn’t need to be the ones to open the door to deliveries. When things like this happen you really get to know who your friends are, people who you maybe wouldn’t have classed as close friends previously, show kindness and understanding that you haven’t seen before and others who you would have classed as good friends disappear. I can understand this, different people cope in different ways. Different life experiences have prepared some people better, they’ve been through the grieving process themselves and they understand the process you’re going through. Other people just feel lost, not knowing how to react, not knowing what to do for the best, knowing that nothing that they do can bring your loved one back and so they do nothing at all.
There was one friend and her ability to know what to do that really struck me. In the days, weeks and months after Lentil died I received a text every day, maybe a heart emoticon, maybe a ‘how are you doing?’, sometimes something that had happened to her to make her laugh, sometimes a text that just said ‘I still don’t know what to say but I love you’. These texts were glimmers of light in the darkness. There was no expectation that I had to reply, she just wanted me to know that she was there for me and she was thinking of me.
Some people sent flowers, which initially I really didn’t want, I wanted any money to go to Lentil’s fund, to help others who had to go through the same horror as we did but in time I found them comforting and the white orchid that some friends sent is still hanging on to its last few flowers now. My aunt sent a chocolate hamper, my husband and I are slightly addicted to chocolate and some of the things in there tempted us to eat when really it was the last thing that we wanted to do.
For the first month after Lentil died we had family with us almost all of the time, they made sure we had food in the cupboards, cooked for us (but weren’t offended when we couldn’t finish what was on our plates). They answered the door, sorted through post when we just couldn’t face it. They were an amazing support and having people around us really helped even though we were terrible company.
So, if someone close to you is grieving, what do you do?
- Text, I know this may not seem very personal but it’s not as demanding as a phone call or a visit.
- Send a card, we had some really lovely cards from people, some with beautiful poems, some with beautifully written, kind words.
- Be open, tell them that you don’t know what to say or do. They don’t know what to say or do either!
- Don’t apply pressure, if they don’t reply to you just give them space, let them know you’re thinking of them but don’t expect anything back.
- Keep in touch, don’t stop contacting them altogether because they aren’t replying, keep letting them know that you’re thinking of them and you’re there for them should they need you.
- Suggest meeting up, once they are in touch with you again suggest meeting up, if they suggest meeting you and you can’t make it arrange another time but don’t be offended if they aren’t ready.
- Bring shopping, we were lucky that we had family around but we weren’t ready to leave the house for weeks. If you’re visiting a friend who is grieving ask them if there’s anything they need you to pick up on the way.
- Talk, I was terrible company after Lentil died. My brain was so fuzzy, I was slow to respond to people but I really appreciated people talking around me, especially hearing news from other parts of my life.
- Listen, I love to talk about Lentil, if you feel comfortable talking about the person who has died show that you are open to that conversation, your friend may not be ready to talk about their loved one but they may be bursting with stories and information to share.
- Ask to see photos, if you feel comfortable doing so, ask if you can see pictures, whether it’s a baby that has died during delivery or a grandparent that’s died of old age, it’s lovely to share photos.
Everybody grieves differently but I have really appreciated my friends and family during this time. I know that some people find it hard to know what to do for the best, I’ve definitely been one of these people in the past. I hope my list might help you to have some ideas but mainly you need to trust your instincts. You know your friend best. Give them time, don’t pressure them, remember it’s not about making you feel better, hug, tell a funny story, eat cake, make tea. Just be there.