The two of us unfortunately understand what we like to call “the thestral effect” (Harry Potter fans, you know what we mean), as many of our readers do. We have been on both sides of grief — either through grieving ourselves or supporting others going through a tough time.
While each sad situation has a unique personality and profile, we’ve learned some lessons through our tough times that we’d like to share with you in hopes it can help you and your loved ones heal.
TO THE GRIEVER
1. your feelings are valid: whatever they are (no matter how crazy), because you feel them… and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (shout out to our wonderfully wise and beautiful — on the inside and out — friend, Rachel Pace, for this advice that is so true and brilliant)
2. take your time: there is no official timeline for the grieving process — everyone goes through different stages at different times. Similarly, there is no endpoint to grieving, no “snap your fingers” or “lightbulb” moment when you are suddenly the same person you were before this happened. Grieving changes you. It exposes your weaknesses and strengths. It is a part of who you are — and that’s something that should be accepted and embraced. It’s not something to be ashamed of.
3. guide your supporters: as our wise friend Sara Alcid said in this article, you will need to guide your loved ones to help you in your grief. Do you want space? Do you want quiet comfort? Do you want distraction, wine, and chocolate? Do you want to be asked questions? Say so.
4. honor your loved ones: spread their remains in a meaningful place that you can visit, create your own kind of ceremony on the anniversary of their death, take the day off work, fund a scholarship in their memory, frame photos, share memories.
5. it’s okay to not be okay: enough said.
6. let yourself heal: find the time to solely focus on what helps you heal, whether it’s being surrounded by family, being alone with nothing but a book or trashy tv or the outdoors, or taking up a new hobby.
7. everything is relative: pain is pain, and no pain is more valid than others. It doesn’t help anyone to compare grievances and “who has it worse” than another. As Krista likes to say, “Everyone has their shit.” No one ever wishes the kind of pain that they feel on another. Respect others’ circumstances.
8. PTSD is a real thing: when PTSD sets in from a glimpse, a memory, or a reminder of the pain you thought would kill you if you ever felt it again, take a few deep breaths and remember how far you have come. pull over, go for a walk, text a friend, and know that the panic you feel is entirely natural.
9. find your people: who love you unconditionally, who will support you no matter what crazy things you may feel, say or do.
10. it will get better: it won’t be today, or tomorrow or probably next week, but one day you will feel better — not like before, but better — even though it seems entirely impossible at some moments.
11. find the normal: even though it may seem impossible to leave the hospital room, the bedroom or your little slice of world since everything came crashing down, find a moment to see that the world does still exist outside of your slice. the bedroom lights, shoveled driveways and other signs of humanity represent that the pain that you feel isn’t everywhere. there is still hope, happiness, love and beauty in the world, even if you can’t feel it at that moment.
12. avoid comfort at the cost of yourself. when the pain you feel infiltrates every aspect of your being, you want to seek comfort. whether it be mac-n-cheese, soy lattes, shutting your self off, chocolate, apple chips, alcohol, not eating, binge drinking or whatever your vice may be, remember to remain true to yourself.
13. soften your void: find solace and strength in the people, activities, and places that feed your soul. That void in your life will slowly feel like less of a black hole and more like a scar that’s an important part of your story.
TO THE SUPPORTER
1. never say “it’s going to be okay”: no matter what “it” is, in that moment and forever, it isn’t okay.
2. acknowledge their pain: sometimes all anyone needs to hear is “you’re right, this just really f**king sucks.” Sometimes they aren’t looking for an inspirational quote, anecdote, or canned statement. Empathize with them on a very basic level.
3. when in doubt, simply say: “i’m here to support you no matter what,” or even, “I don’t know what to say but I am truly here for you in every way.”
4. words. and if you really want to reach out but get a bit tongue tied or are too far away for a hug, a pretty, simple card saying “thinking of you” means an incredible amount. and then those cards begin to stack up and they become a reminder of all of the love of the world that connects us all. and that love gets you pretty far one of those days that you think you truly can’t find the strength to keep going.
5. don’t ask what they need done, simply do it: mow the lawn, shovel the snow, stock the fridge, plaster inspirational quotes all over the house, you name it. However, if you’re not regularly welcomed into their home otherwise, maybe sticking with a less intimate gesture is the best path…See #8.
6. do daily life. help them find some normalcy and focus on something else. invite them for a hike, bike, or walk or to somewhere not incredibly public (a.k.a. not the bars) and talk about whatever. nothing deep. nothing emotional. nothing spiritual, unless the griever prompts it. sometimes it’s just really nice to be incorporated into someone’s normalcy.
7. guide the griever: with unconditional support in what they feel they need to do — don’t tell them what they need to do to move on, because you can’t truly know what they need. They are going through their own personal process.
8. be realistic about your relationship: do you talk to the griever every day? every few months? not for the last six years? while there are exceptions to this rule (say for example if your direct family member went through a truly similar experience), keep the nature of your relationship in mind when deciding how to support them. for example, don’t show up at the hospital if you fall into the latter category, and don’t not reach out because you don’t know what to say (see #3) if you fall into the first couple of categories.
9. only offer empathy if you genuinely can: chances are, they don’t want to hear about your second cousin’s grandfather’s similar illness, or about your sister’s cancer treatment when your loved one is suffering from a degenerative disease.
10. never offer pity: saying “I feel sorry for him/her” is never the thing to say. that’s not helpful — no one wants your pity, they want your understanding, compassion, and empathy.
11. it’s not about you: never, ever, should the griever be the one consoling you. they are dealing with their own — probably far more complex and valid — grieving process, and bringing your own baggage to a pity party is not the way to go.
12. be in it for the long-haul: it’s not about the first few days or weeks after the “tough time,” it’s about being there for a lifetime…For the random bout of PTSD, for the lonely Tuesday night, for life’s milestones that won’t be quite how the griever imagined them.
13. remember with them: remember milestones with them — both the bad days (days of deaths, accidents, etc.) and the good ones. Send them flowers 15 years after the fact. Give them a silly gift. Even a text saying “I’m thinking of you” carries more weight than you can imagine. Similarly, help them honor their loved one on holidays, mothers day, fathers day, graduations, wedding days, birthdays, you name it. If they’ve lost someone, each life ceremony will carry more weight, and the loss will be felt more poignantly on those days. Acknowledge that.
14. the world is a scary place: after going nowhere other than a hospital or being cooped up in a house for several weeks, returning to the real world can be overwhelming. the grocery store might be the scariest place imaginable in a small town. respect that transitioning back to “normal daily life” can feel impossible after tough events, and the griever does not want to feel like the “other.”
15. support yourself: you can only offer so much strength to another without replenishing your own. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Remember, no ones pain is more valid than the next person’s, but here’s what we’ve experienced:
krista: krista lost her father to a sudden heart attack when she was 11 and he was 51. krista’s mom is currently in the late stages of CBD, a rare degenerative disease. like many people our age, she has also lost grandparents to stroke, cancer, and alzheimer’s.
taylor: in 2007, taylor met a boy. and not just any boy, “the boy.” in 2008, the boy was diagnosed with cancer and successfully made that cancer his b*tch during the beginning of our college careers. and then a fateful night in january of this year, the boy was involved in a motor vehicle collision where he suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for two weeks. and again, he made that coma and subsequent recovery his b*tch. it has been eight years full of love that has no boundaries.
THANK YOU to all of our supporters through our tough times. We love you, and we wouldn’t be nearly as whole as we are today without you.