Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Have you ever talked to someone about the death of a loved one and said "I'm sorry about your loss" or "it'll get better" and kinda wanted to runaway from the conversation? If you answered yes, congratulations you are human! I have good news, you don't have to know what to say. You don't have to make anyone feel better because the truth is, nothing you say will take the pain from a person grieving someone they love. Offering to listen and allow them to unload the weight they've been carrying is enough. Let them let it out. Let them know you hear them. Let them know that they're allowed to hurt, hurting is normal and it's okay! Offer to help them connect to some kind of support like a grief group or a therapist.
There is power in sharing your story. I know, I have been there stuffing down icky, painful trauma from losing someone very close to me. I went almost 2 years of avoiding letting it out because I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. I lost my sister to a heroin overdose. She passed away 8 months after I got clean from my heroin addiction. I was angry at her shortly before she overdosed. I was still living with my parents, as was she, I felt like my mom should've protected my recovery and kicked my sister to the curb and I was very vocal about that day before she left and went to a hotel. Around 3 am there was a knock at the door, I heard the knock and thought it was my sister, drunk knocking. My dad came and got me and said "the cops are here, it's about Brittany." I grabbed my newborn and ran down the stairs, Brittany's 2 children were right behind me, along with my other daughter. Half-way down I could hear the cop say "She overdosed" and I remember thinking she was in a hospital. The next sentence was "I'm sorry, she's gone." It felt like the world around us melted and it was just us: my parents, her kids, my kids living in an unescapable nightmare.
That moment haunted me for 2 years, the guilt my harsh words that day broke me. I was convinced it was my fault, without a doubt she would be alive if I wouldn't have said those things. I had to keep it in though, I couldn't burden anyone else or make them feel uncomfortable by talking about it- nobody wanted to hear about it anyway. I just had to live with the guilt and pain- it never got better, just shoved back down until it all boiled over anytime I had a reminder like a song she liked. I finally took some solid advice and went to a grief group that was conveniently at the organization I worked for.
I sat in the group, surrounded by mothers who lost their children to suicide or overdose. I began to share my story while balling my eyes out. None of mothers were crying, it didn't make sense to me. How were they so strong while I cried every time I talked about my loss. I said all of the worst things I had been keeping inside: I made Brittany do it, I blamed my mom for enabling, my mom blamed me- all the ugly came out. It was so freeing to feel heard by others and to hear myself say everything I've kept inside. I continued to listen and speak, we would talk about everything we thought and I truly adored these women. They never minimized my pain, even though they had lost the own children and my loss truly isn't as traumatic and life altering as losing a child could be. I began to facilitate the grief group after switching my job within the organization. The grief group stopped and I started going into inpatient setting until COVID made it too difficult. Now, things are starting to go back to normal, or our new normal, I'm excited about starting our new 11 week grief group next week. I'm happy to be a listening ear and offer my personal experience with grief. The group is going to have an optional retreat the weekend before Thanksgiving at Camp Maria in Leonardtown, MD. The group is going to end for a while until the holidays are over but I hope that we'll be able to make connections and support each other throughout the holidays. We're going virtual so the group will be more accessible. I am so fortunate to be able to help others find healing- If you have a loved on struggling with grief ask them how they are handling their loss and encourage them to share and help them find resources. You are not responsible for healing their pain, they must heal on their own.P