One of the hardest things about getting older is losing the people we love. My mother in law passed away last week after a long illness. It's strange how even though it's something you expect and are preparing yourself for it's still such a shock when it happens.
Although I'm feeling the loss myself my goal for the past week is being there for my husband and his family. Losing a parent is one of the hardest things and I want to be there for them in any way I can. That means checking in on them. Offering to help out wherever I can. Making life as easy for them as possible during this difficult time.
I read a post by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, a few years back that made me uncomfortable and defensive. She had lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack and she was posting about how quickly people seemed to move on from dealing with her grief. She wondered why people would say "how are you doing?" implying this was just a normal day instead of asking; "how are you today?" which meant they knew she was still deep in grief over the loss of her husband. At first the post made me angry because I did the exact same thing she was talking about. I always figured maybe that person wasn't thinking about loss at that moment and I didn't want to bring it up. But that's not how grief works. They never forget it's happened. And I believe they truly appreciate any thoughts about how they are holding up. Sheryl went on to write 'Option B' which is a book about dealing with grief. It helped me understand a lot about how to help.
Loss is one of those things that you never get over. You just learn to live with it. Hopefully you can get to the point where a reminder makes you smile instead of sad. My mother in law and I played 'Words with Friends' together. It's hard signing on now because I keep looking to see if she got back to me on our game. Grief and loss pop up in the most interesting places.
But here is what I've learned. Reach out to those suffering a loss. Not just for a day or a week but check on them in the coming days. Ask how they are holding up. Ask if they need to talk. Offer to do something for them. Don't just say; "let me know if I can do anything" because that puts the job on them. Instead, tell them you are dropping off food, taking them out to lunch or bringing a bottle of wine over so you guys can hang out and talk. Remember that this is a long process and it's helpful to keep checking in. Don't pretend life will return to normal after the services for the people who suffer the loss of a family member. It doesn't.
Deirdre Sullivan wrote an article for NPR in 2005 called "Always go to the funeral". She talks about how her father made her go to a funeral for a former teacher when she was 15 to pay her respects. She talked about how uncomfortable she was in the moment but 20 years later that woman's parents still remember her name and say hello with a big smile. It's these weird, awkward moments for us that mean the world to the grieving.
She goes on to write; "Always go to the funeral means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really I have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva calls for one my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing."
I've put this into practice often in my life. I remember when a friend of mine lost her father. I drove to the funeral home by myself and stood in a massive line to pay my respects. I will always remember the look of surprise and appreciation on her face when she saw me. It's the right thing to do and it makes you feel good too.
I know loss is awkward and it's hard to know what to say. But saying the wrong thing is often better than saying nothing at all. You can always apologize for your awkwardness. Let people know you are thinking about them. Let them know you understand they are still grieving long after the funeral is over.
Thank you for tuning in this week. If you think this episode would be helpful to someone you know please share it with them. Keep your loved ones close and make sure they know how you feel about them.
I hope you have a great week and of course be badass. I'm here, cheering you on.