Grief is funny in that it is never really the same from one moment to the next. It relies so heavily on context and timing that its meaning changes with every thought, every memory, every new experience. It might be a song that brings back a happy memory on a day when you are feeling stretched particularly thin. It might be watching a newlywed couple exchange vows and feeling both the joy of new beginnings and the sting of what you’ve lost. It might be hearing your child say something funny and thinking, “I have to remember to tell them about this.” And on any other day, the song and the wedding and the kid might spark completely different thoughts and feelings. And things that are innocuous one day may be lethal the next.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what to do when someone is grieving. We all want to do something. But honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all for grief. Not even one-size-fits-one. Everyone is going to need something different at every point in time. Some people *points finger at self* don’t want to need anything or anyone, but they do. We all need someone.
Sometimes you need someone to pull it all out of you. Someone who can climb over the walls you’ve built, throw you over their shoulder, and carry you back over. Someone who is both gentle and persistent in their fight to conquer the fortress you’ve put up around your grief, hiding it away so that you don’t have to acknowledge it. And when they set you down on the other side, you feel exhausted just from being carried through the journey.
Sometimes you need someone who just doesn’t care about it. Who will acknowledge your pain, and then leave it to the side in order to just see you. Because as much as it feels like the grief and the pain is you, it isn’t. It may permeate every cell in your body, but it can just as easily seep out of every cell. It is not constant and it is not as intertwined with you as you think it is. There is plenty more to you than pain, and you need to be reminded of that.
Sometimes you need someone who tries to see it. Who really tries to look through your eyes and feel what you’re feeling. And maybe they do, for a moment. And when they have to turn back, they let you know that even though they can’t sit there, they’re close by. They’re cheering you on, even if they don’t know how to get to you. It’s their effort that you need. Knowing that someone cares enough to try even when they know they’re probably going to get it wrong. They might say or do the wrong thing, but they care enough to fail.
And sometimes you need someone who can sit calmly next to you while you’re in it. They’re there, but they’re not trying to see it through your eyes, they’re simply observing. They’re an immovable source of tranquility in a sea of chaos. They don’t feel the chaos because they don’t need to, but they’re in it with you. They know that you’re not going to drown and they serve as a reference point for when you need to find your way back to solid ground.
Grief, this universal human experience, is so unfamiliar to us as a society. We don’t think about it because it scares us. We don’t talk about it because it makes us uncomfortable. When we experience it, we’re forced to find a way through it, whatever that looks like to us. But when we’re on the outside, we feel paralyzed. Even going through it doesn’t give us a secret code to cracking it. Helping someone with it is about being in the moment and leaning into whatever unfolds. That surreal experience that happens when humans leave all of their agendas and expectations and shit at the door and really see and connect with one another. That is how we do when there’s nothing that can be done.