A friend of mine’s mom died last night, after a long illness. I am sad for her, and I sympathize.
My own mother died thirteen years and three weeks ago. It still feels recent some days. I wish I could somehow impart everything I’ve learned about grief to my friend, but that’s a long, lonely lesson that we all learn separately, in our own way. And the facts of the matter don’t convey the sense, I guess: that someday, some weeks or years later, it won’t feel like a knife in the heart every time you turn around (only occasionally). That the fogginess of immediate grief passes and turns into the ache of long-term grief. That fully accepting that you’ll never talk to someone again is a slow practice that comes in stages (and apparently takes longer than 13 years). That like anything debilitating, you learn to live with it and adapt; you work with what you’ve got, and it’s less a matter of forgetting than of having the presence of mind to not be distracted.
We don’t talk about grief enough in this culture, about the mechanisms and ways of it, and we don’t learn how to move easily among the grieving. We all grieve: it’s as universal as being born, as being loved by someone. So why aren’t we better at it? It’s such a lonely process; I wish it weren’t.
I don’t know how similarly people react to being faced with grief, but for my part, some ways to help someone out who is going through such a thing might be:
* writing or calling at odd moments, that aren’t the funeral or other defined announcement. Things hurt worse later.
* if you knew the person, talking about them, telling stories. If you didn’t, asking about them. It breaks my heart that most of my friends will never know my mom. I’d be glad to talk about her.
* recognizing that everyone who grieves is by necessity pretty irrational, at least for a while. This is why people bring casseroles; the recognition that maybe people can’t feed themselves. But it’s not just food that matters.
* not acting uncomfortable around the grieving. Grief is uncomfortable; of course it is. But your sympathy is genuine, and discomfort means the other person has to go out of their way to put you at ease. That’s not what you meant to do.