Cheering Up a Griever

I belong to an online site where people ask questions of self-professed experts. I’m often asked questions about grief, most of which I have already answered, but every once in a while, I’m asked a new question that flabbergasts me.

Today someone mentioned a friend who had lost their mother, and asked, “What can I tell them to ‘cheer them up’ and express how proud I am for them and the way they’re handling it?”

What the heck kind of question is that? And how smug and ignorant and insensitive does someone have to be to ask it?

The truth is, grief belongs to the griever. It has nothing to do with anyone else, no matter how close that anyone might be to the griever. What an onlooker sees might not show the bereaved person’s real feelings, and anything anyone says in that regard might make the bereaved feel even more alone than they already do because it will show that the “friend” doesn’t understand.

People need their grief, need to feel what they are feeling way more than they need to be “cheered up.” Cripes, if the questioner can’t stand to see the friend’s grief, think how much worse the griever feels at the loss. Wanting to cheer up a griever might be understandable, because grief is one of those things the uninitiated shy away from, but it’s a totally selfish desire. No one wants to have to confront the fact of death — it’s the great unknowable and puts the lie to our cozy existence.

And what the heck did the questioner mean by being proud of the way the friend handle “their” grief? Because they’re not crying in public? Because they’re continuing on with their life? Does that mean that if they were crying or showing their grief in some other way, the questioner would be upset with the bereaved person? Again, how a person handles grief has nothing to do with anyone but the griever. Each griever handles things the best they know how, though most grievers quickly learn to hide their grief so that others aren’t judging them, and letting someone know you are proud of them for how they are handling their grief is definitely a judgement.

Instead of cheering up a griever or voicing a judgement, you can hug the person if you are close friends. You can invite the person to lunch or provide a meal at their house. If you knew the mother, you can tell stories about the mother and say how much you liked her or miss her or whatever. If you didn’t know her, ask about her. People who are grieving sometimes need to talk about the deceased, but most people don’t want to mention the deceased for fear of making the bereaved person sad. They don’t understand that nothing will make the griever sadder. Sadness comes with the loss. There’s nothing you can do to “cheer up” a griever, but you can suspend all judgement. And you can be there for them.

That’s what counts. Simply being there.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 1

Grief belongs to the griever. No one should tell a griever how to grieve, when to grieve, or how long to grieve. No one can bind grief or limit it, usually not even the griever. It’s not so much that we go through grief, but that grief goes through us, and eventually, when grief has done what it’s supposed to do (take us from a relatively safe shared life to a relatively safe new life that can accommodate the unthinkable idea of death), it will leave us in peace.

Sociological forces try to bind our grief. Society as a whole needs people who fit in, and in today’s culture, unhappiness and pain have no importance. Even though they don’t know it, people who are close to us are often the agents of these societal forces. They urge us to move on, to stop thinking about our deceased loved one, to find someone else. Sometimes they simply wish us to be happy. Sometimes they don’t want to be confronted with the issue of death, and if they confront the reality of our loss, then they — like us — would have to confront that terrible reality of death. And sometimes, they are simply responding to societal pressures to herd us back into place.

Grief theorists try to bind our grief with their “stages” of grief, their platitudes, their easy solutions for a difficult situation. So often, the message is mixed. They try to guide us back to normalcy while telling us that everyone’s grief is different, which actually isolates us even more than we already are. No one likes to feel as if they are the same as everyone else, but being too different, feeling too different, makes us wonder if we’re crazy, which exacerbates grief. Everyone’s grief is different to the extent that we are all different, but there are similarities in the progression of grief for many who have lost their life mates, and this similarity is comforting to those who already feel out of place and outside of time.

What few people seem to realize is that there is no place for us anymore. No normalcy. When we have lost our life mate, the one person who connected us to the world and even ourselves, there is no going back. Everything has changed. And everything continues to change.

Eight years and eight months after Jeff’s death, I can still feel ripples of change. We grievers count the days, the weeks, the months, and eventually only the years from the day our loved one died. It’s as if subconsciously we know that on that day of death, we were reborn into a new life. In fact, for many of us, that particular date has more resonance than our actual birthday.

So, if someone you care about has lost a person intrinsic to their lives, please resist the urge to chivvy the griever along. Their grief does not belong to you. Grief belongs to the griever.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.