Someone said to me, “Once the funeral is over you’ll feel better. You will have closure and be able to get over it.” I’m so glad I was too foggy-brained for how I really wanted to respond. What does “getting over it” mean anyway? How does one miraculously “feel better” after burying the person they loved?
The first week someone dies, the family has a ton of support. The phone keeps ringing, the text messages come in, Facebook friends you forgot existed express condolences, and the whole world looks to comfort you. Then the funeral happens a week later; and suddenly, it feels as if everyone else died too.
Where did all the people go?
After having gone through grief, in losing two significant others, and friends and family, it seems that the easiest stage of grief is when you’re in shock. When my fiancé died, I got up, got dressed, went to work; I was in tears, but I was somewhat functional. Most of us are. It’s what allows us to plan funerals and make phone calls and take care of arrangements.
But what about after? When the shock wears off. When it hits your brain that he or she is not on an extended vacation after all. That’s when support is needed.
WHERE GRIEF SHOWS UP
The bereaved need you to send a quick text in the morning. That’s when their mind recalls getting their child ready for school or making sure grandma took her medicine. It’s when the husband wakes up to see his wife’s pillow empty. The bereaved need you at dinner time. The mother misses her child complaining about the veggies. The girlfriend sees the empty chair across from her, where her boyfriend would chow down as she talked about her day.
When my boyfriend died, I tried all sorts of things to not have his absence echo at dinner time. I removed the chairs so only one was there. I tried eating in bed, but that reminded me of our breakfast in bed days. I ended up eating dinner on a tray while sitting in the living room. It was absurd, but not seeing the empty chair he had sat in for months dried up some tears.
The bereaved need you on their birthdays, their partner’s or grandparent’s birthdays, holidays — including the made up “Happy Siblings Day.” They need you to still invite them to family functions and friends’ outings. Their person may be gone, but the bereaved are still here.
A YEAR LATER, GRIEF STILL HURTS
Grief hits when the sweet lady I know bumps into me months later and says, “Where’s your husband?” And I explain to her that we weren’t married yet and why we never will be. It continues when the mail has finally stopped coming with his name on it. He’s gone forever, it whispers.
After “the year of firsts,” as the bereaved call it, year two hits. We thought year one was hard. Until we realize on the anniversary of their death that we have to do this all over again. A new year is also difficult. In 2018 I could at least say, “last year we were together.” 2019 didn’t offer that luxury. Starting a new year without the person you loved seems daunting. We do it, but it hurts no less.
EMPTY WORDS: YOU’RE NOT ALONE
If you enlisted as part of the Support Team for the bereaved, please understand when you tell us “you’re not alone” and “I’m here for you,” we’re really counting on that. We know you have lives too; we are aware that you have bad days. We more than understand this. But please remember us when you send your child off to college. When your next child is born. When your boyfriend proposes to you. When you buy your first house with your newly-wed wife. When your entire family can go on a vacation together. The new memories you create are the lost experiences we mourn over.
We carry grief with us, and the bereaved are ever-evolving as they learn how to integrate love and loss and newness into daily living. So remember, grief does not end after we’ve said our final goodbyes.
Showing up to the funeral pays respect to the person who died. Showing up after the funeral supports the person who lives.
How have you helped the bereaved? Or where are you struggling to? If you are the tender heart, where does grief show up for you? How can we support? Remember, when we talk about our experiences, we create a better grief culture where everyone is helped.