What To Do: When A Friend Loses A Loved One. (Pt. 1)
Posted On November 7, 2018
On October 31 2017, my life changed completely.
The only way I could find to express my complex feelings and ever-evolving emotions, was by writing my thoughts down on this blog.
This blog, that got me into trouble more times than a few. The blog that was “too open,” “too depressing,” “too negative,” “too focussed on grief.”
So I deleted all the posts I deemed negative, all those months of heart-wrenching grief and the beautiful sadness of my healing just wiped away. Like they never existed.
Now, this may please the people who disapproved of my words.
I just wish that the grief inside of me, the memories of my harrowing days were just as easy to delete from my mind.
Here’s what you need to know about grief: It never dies.
I’m joking, smiling and laughing, so I’m fine right? It’s been a “long time,” since my father’s passing, so now my heart-wrenching pain has dulled and become a tender ache and I am able to look back and hold onto precious memories with fondness and a happy tear rolling down my cheek.
In Hollywood, it’s quite common to see the death of a loved one acting as a springboard for our protagonist to become completely focussed on a new adventure. In The Greatest Showman, Pete Barnum – the protagonist of the movie – loses his father as a boy. It shows the funeral and sadness within a poignant and mostly-happy song montage “A Million Dreams,” it does not portray the endless nights of tears. In fact, in all of Pete Barnum’s achievements and experiences, the movie does not even mention his father’s death and how that might have impacted him.
Let’s move to Hollyoaks. Mercedes is perhaps the most ill-fated character on the show. Having lost several members of her family to murder – at various times on the show – she’s been kidnapped, presumed dead herself. Had countless lovers and break ups to deal with and goodness knows what else since 2015 (When I stopped watching the show.) Here’s what I noticed about Hollyoaks, I’m guessing other Soaps follow the similar pattern. A main character loses a loved one. They are sad, become depressed, have a pep talk from a friend or an ignited desire to do something new and then bam, they have a new hair cut, fresh face and back to normal.
I blame the media for censoring grief. Les Miserables comes close to showing the pains and suffering that come with loss. However, I’ve literally heard people say “Oh I’m not watching that movie, I started it but it was weird and depressing.”
Another movie that more-appropriately represented grief is The Count of Monte Cristo which is one of my favourites. The majority of the movie is the injustice and suffering of our main character, Edmond. The story of how he evolves himself and grows into a new man is inspiring, but it keeps the balance of weighted grief and depression along with the hope of a happy future.
I always used to think that the Oscars were a bunch of politics. The movies were generally heavy, slow to build and some of them were difficult to watch. The exception being La, La Land. Which is a masterpiece of happy, sad and all that comes in-between mixed in with large doses of music and dancing.
Since my father died, and grief has become my new pal, I have come to realise why certain movies win an Oscar and why others do not. The movie does not need to make you laugh til your sides hurt, nor does it need to involve a huge gang of Superheroes and CGI effects. Oscar movies need to be real. They are often long, sometimes made over a long period of time, the 2014 movie Boyhood was filmed over 12 years, in order to allow the main character to grow up and make the movie more organic. Take a look here to read what it takes to be nominated for an Oscar according to the Independent.
Now in true Laura fashion, I have gone off on a tangent about movies and TV. You see, I am incredibly passionate about movies. They play out all these different stories, and while I complain at how superficial they tend to be when it comes to human experiences and trails, I have found there is a whole genre for those who wish to see life represented more accurately. Movies that are raw.
On the whole, I like to use movies to escape. So, I’m quite alright with not dealing with the PTSD of my main character and get straight to the action and happy ending. However, I do appreciate that if you DO want to get an idea of how someone is feeling when they are dealing with grief, watching an Oscar-nominated movie along the same theme will help.
Another thing you can do, is to read blogs that are honest and open about grief. Sadly, I can not go back and undelete what I’ve written. I now realise, I should have ignored the feedback. When I published Pregnancy is Not an Illness…Hyperemesis Gravidarum IS back in 2012, I got feedback that the book was stomach-churning and packed with all the grisly details of severe sickness in pregnancy. That book is a very difficult read, certainly not for the faint of heart. However, I have also received countless emails from women who thanked me for sharing it. They were able to show their husband, partner, family-member or friend the book and provide some insight into their suffering.
Perhaps, this blog could do the same for those who are completely unsure of what to do when their friend is suffering with grief.
So, I’ll be writing some blog posts on the topic from time to time, especially as we come up to the Christmas period – which is the hardest time of year for people grieving the loss of their loved ones.
So, here’s part One:
What Not To Do:
Don’t tell them “They live on, they’re in a better place, you’ll see them again, it’s going to be ok.”
This advice didn’t help me, and I’m religious and do believe that my loved one is still alive somewhere, imagine someone saying these things to you and you firmly believe as Stephen Hawking – that we are merely a computer and when we die, the computer is turned off and there is nothing.
Imagine the insult of someone pushing their beliefs onto you and not only that, telling you to stop being sad because everything will be fine.
It’s not fine.
It’s never fine.
This touches on a previous blog post I wrote – and deleted – called something like “Is it Ok to Grieve if you believe in life after death,” The analogy I gave was that say your loved one was given a one-way ticket to a remote island, it’s beautiful and full of amazing buildings and people, with no crime, no famine nor illness. It’s an amazing place to be. They’re so lucky to get invited there! Only snag! They can’t contact anyone outside the island and no one can visit unless they receive a special invitation. Imagine that person just got on a plane and left…for good. You know they’re still alive, somewhere. But guess what? You grieve the separation. Not the death. So yeah, if you believe in life after death or not, you’ll grieve for your loved one.
Don’t Avoid Them
Oh my word, how revealing it was to me who my real friends were. People who I thought would be round the second they heard the news stayed far away. People who I thought wouldn’t be too bothered, came out of nowhere and persisted until I was ready to let them in.
I completely get it. Loss, sadness, grief…they’re awkward. Your friend may have been the happy-go-lucky, all-giving, super upbeat friend who has now turned from a Happy Troll to a depressed Bergen. And this stark difference in character is both unsettling and poses as a challenge to deal with.
The last thing your friend needs, is for you to avoid them. If you’re staying away until they “get better and happy again,” then you’ll be gone for good. The thing you need to accept is that your friend – the friend you knew and loved before their loss – they died along with their loved one. No one survives grief unscathed. No one is the same person they were before the hand of death touched their family.
So, go and spend time with your damaged friend. They are like a Phoenix in the ashes, it’s your opportunity to be there with them and help them evolve into something new. If you stick around and get to know and love the new parts of your friend, the wisdom they’ve attained, the more-meaningful conversations they now like to have, the new priorities they have taken up. You’ll get to know them and learn to love them in a way you never knew before.
Grief can separate people, but it absolutely brings people closer together too. I have had so many bittersweet moments with people, often people who have also been where I am now. People who have experienced loss. My friendships are sweeter and more precious. The time I have is precious. I do not waste it on anyone who takes me for granted.
So if you’re willing to stick around and be there for your friend, whether by messages over Facebook, cards, emails or good old face to face. You’ll be glad you did, because they will come to appreciate you more than anyone and you’ll get back more than you gave when they are out of the darkness.
Do Not Judge The Way They Grieve
This is a big one. Because my mother came to live with us and I took on the responsibility to be her carer, I had nowhere to go to grieve. My children were struggling at school emotionally and needed to be home schooled, so I had no time to be alone somewhere out of the house and process my grief.
The only escape I had was through my writing. Yes, I could have written my thoughts down on paper or a secret notebook. Why share it with the world? Well, I felt alone. The thought of keeping the words to myself further isolated myself. I needed people to read my thoughts and know that I was struggling. I needed to not feel alone.
I regret deleting my words every day. All because of a few people giving me feedback that my words were depressing and I shouldn’t share so much with the world.
Everyone grieves differently. Some need to share, some need time, some need help. In the absence of any other way to grieve, I had to write.
So before you go and tell someone how they should or should not grieve, just stop for a second and tell yourself it’s their journey and instead, offer a listening ear or shoulder to cry on.
That concludes the first part of this guide. If you have any questions or experiences to share, please put them in the comments and I’ll be happy to read them. And if you’re hurting over the loss of a loved one, I’m virtually sending you a big hug and a cup of warm hot chocolate. Today is a new day. Keep going.