My Nanna passed away last week. She was 92 and had been in hospital for a few weeks, so not unexpected, but still a slight shock and a sad time for my family and I. She was a trooper and I will miss her cheeky smile and conversations.
I’ve lost a few people that I love over the years. Some have affected me more than others, but during my times of grief I have also learnt valuable lessons. Things that I hope have made me a slightly better human being on this sometimes hard, but often rewarding, journey called life.
Not just “Call people you love and tell them what they mean to you” and the classic ‘Life is short, so make it count’. The most important lesson is about how to deal with people who have lost a loved one. What to say to them.
It’s actually really simple, but many people struggle with what to do. I know because until I had gone through it, I was the same.
You say “I’m sorry for your loss”.
That’s all. Five words to acknowledge that they have lost someone dear to them and that you recognise this is a hard time, but you are there if they need you.
The reason most people can’t or don’t do this (I think) is because they are afraid of how you will react. They don’t want to make you cry. We all want to avoid awkward situations, so we believe that if we don’t say anything, we won’t have to stand in front of you, in silence, waiting to see how you respond. Waiting to see if you break down. If we ignore it, it didn’t happen.
The problem with this is that for those in grief, not mentioning “it” hangs in the air like a dark cloud. We are waiting for you to acknowledge, not in a big dramatic way, but merely to notice, that we are struggling with something personal, and that you can see this. You don’t need to do anything about our situation, we just feel better if you say it out loud.
If you watch TV you would believe that compassion is something humans have forgotten how to feel, so when someone extends that hand, in an effort to acknowledge your pain, it can restore your faith in human nature.
Some people do this well, in a way that is real. When my friend Richard passed away unexpectedly, a friend texted and said “That is shit and I am so sorry. You will feel shit and that’s okay. I love you and I am here for you with whatever you need. I am SO sorry for your loss. Life is bullshit sometimes and I will never understand it. Take care of you xo”
Those words were perfect because in that moment I too was confused about the world and life and why Richard would be taken away unexpectedly. She didn’t soften it with the standard response of ‘At least he’s in a better place’ (as lovely as that sounds). She called it for what it was. A shit situation handed to me by life, whether I liked it or not. Her message gave me permission to feel angry. I didn’t need to put on a brave face.
I hope you don’t experience loss in your life anytime soon, but if you know of someone who does, please pick up the phone or visit them, and say those words. Even if it’s hard. Even if it makes you want to cry too (which for me it often does). I promise you, it will be a moment both of you will remember for a long time.
Thank you to all my friends who reached out to me over the past week – your compassion does not go unnoticed.