Some people pretend they don’t see me because they don’t know what to say. Others pretend nothing has changed. Some offer advice, and worst of all, some people tell me it’s time to move on.
I know they all mean well and want to help; they just don’t know how to do it. How do you help someone who’s faced a great loss when you don’t know what to say? It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to say a thing; you just listen.
Recently, a dear friend brought me dinner. We sat at the table long after the food had grown cold and she invited me to reminisce. She didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable to be speaking about the dead and listened intently as I rambled on about how Neil and I met and fell in love. She chuckled with me over funny family stories and laughed at some of the ridiculous arguments Neil and I had over the years. She loved when I showed her my collection of the crazy little frogs that Neil drew on everything he wrote – messages in the girl’s lunch boxes, notes he left for us around the house, and especially on his signature homemade holiday cards.
By the time my friend left, I was still smiling, and I was surprised how much lighter my grief felt. I was stronger from expressing that Neil is still important, still my husband and my children’s father, still the guy who told the best (and the worst) jokes I ever heard and made me laugh either way, the guy who drew crazy frogs. Talking brought all that back to life, back into reality. Granted, it is a different kind of reality now, but talking helped me begin to sort that out, too. And more than I would have guessed, it felt good to laugh, to share, to talk freely without worrying I might make someone else sad.
So the next time you want to help a grieving friend, remember you don’t have to worry about finding the right thing to say. The right thing is simply to listen.