When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love

I have lost a number of people that I love in the past 20 years or so. I am all out of grandparents, I lost an aunt, uncle, and cousin from the same family, and three years ago, I lost my mother.

It recently struck me that at 32, I am now the oldest woman in my family. I’d like to think that this makes me some sort of expert on loss and grief, and that I will know exactly what to do and say when someone in my life experiences a loss. Within a year of my mother’s death, a close friend lost her brother, another friend lost her dad, and a handful of friends lost a handful of loved ones. I always reached out to them, always tried to do the right thing, the compassionate thing. Let me say this clearly: I’m still never quite sure what to do.

No one ever is.  It is so heartbreaking to watch someone you love lose someone, and you are left feeling so helpless and so small. What can you do, as one person, to help ease their pain, give them comfort, and make sure they can just make it to the next day? In such a terrible time, what is the “right” thing to do?

What I do know is this, the only wrong thing to do is nothing at all.

When someone you love dies, the hole that is left in your life and your heart is so unbearably huge, and the truth is that many acts of kindness can get lost in the sadness of it all. I wouldn’t be able to tell you who sent me a card when my mom finally lost her long and awesomely difficult battle with cancer. I can tell you that each time I went to the mailbox (or each time a friend went for me), there was love and kindness waiting for me.

And I will never remember how my laundry got done, dinner got made, or the oil got changed in my car. I can only tell you that it happened, because people who loved me more than I may ever know stepped in to help me when I could not help myself.

My next door neighbor, who I knew only casually, quietly mowed my lawn on the weekend that I left town for Mom’s memorial service. He continued to mow it countless times during my visits to my Dad’s house in the months that followed her death. My friend, who would lose her brother just months after I lost my mom, let me lean on her, talk it out with her, and sometimes scream about the unfairness of it all. The man who would become my husband did the simplest and best thing he could do, which was to just hold me and let me cry and grieve and cry some more.

I promise you this: if you reach out with love and compassion, you are doing the right thing.

When someone you love suffers a loss, everything is “the right thing to do.” Call them, send a card, babysit their kids or pets, bake a plate of gooey, decadent chocolate chip cookies and put them on a disposable plate so they don’t have to wash it, or remember who to give it back to.

Continue to do these things even after you think they are “ok.”  You will sense if they want you to be closer, or if they need a little more space. And if you can’t sense it, it is ok to ask.

People treat grieving people like toddlers, and often avoid asking questions or mentioning “the awful thing” for fear that it will upset them. Sometimes people end up avoiding the grieving person altogether, terrified that they will say or do something that will bring them to tears. But the problem with that is so obvious that we all miss it – grieving people need to be allowed to be upset.  They need to hear the name of their loved one, and be allowed to feel and do whatever they need to, with friends and family around them to support them.

There is an odd beauty in the grieving process, and participating in that with love and support is one of the most amazing gifts we can give and receive. You will not say the perfect magical words, you will not make their pain disappear. What you will do is offer them a little bit of hope and light in an otherwise impossible time.  And that is definitely the right thing to do.

Photo Credit.

12 Comments:

  1. Jennie Cook said on February 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm ... #

    Great article! What strikes me most about this is that I cannot remember who did what when my father died either. We had just moved to the South about a year before it happened and so many people in the community reached out us. I do remember food arriving, money being donated, and countless cards and floral arrangements from people I did not know being delivered. When he died, the church was full of these people who just came to support us. To this day, I actually feel a little guilty that I never got to know most of them but I am incredibly thankful.

  2. DM said on February 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm ... #

    This article is wonderful and perfect timing, too. One of my best friends has lost both parents, a grandmother, and a baby in the past year. This is great advice…thank you so much.

  3. Taylor_Smith said on February 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm ... #

    This is awesome. I can just hear your voice coming through this article and it’s sooo good.

  4. Lisa Halle said on February 2, 2010 at 7:46 pm ... #

    This article really resonated with me. I remember clearly that it seemed someone was always miraculously available to get me through the darkest period. Sometimes those that helped the most were folks I had just met. I remember one woman who had experienced the loss of a spouse years earlier who sought me ought and took me to lunch. She allowed me to grieve openly and told me this was OK. It was so refreshing to know I could be myself and not hide my pain.

  5. Alice Doughty said on February 6, 2010 at 1:33 am ... #

    What an amazing article. You have such a gift for simply and clearly stating the things that seem impossible to explain. Thank you for being a voice that needs to be heard. I wish everyone would read this for the simple fact that we all know someone that will eventually need this type of support; for it is a part of life. People (understandably) get so awkward around death, and it is great to have permission to do whatever we think is best, and know that it is the right thing. Well done.

  6. ******* ****** said on February 10, 2010 at 10:03 am ... #

    What I like the most about this article is this line: “I promise you this: if you reach out with love and compassion, you are doing the right thing.” That says it all. Each of us will find a different way to reach out to someone who is grieving. And each person who is experiencing grief will feel our compassion in a different way. As with many things in life, there is no magic bullet about how to reach out to others. Finding the courage and strength within to reach out is the important part.

  7. Lorrie said on September 10, 2011 at 10:12 am ... #

    Like you I have lost a number of people in the past 8 years. An aunt, uncle and 2 cousins from the same family, my bestfriend, and my mother-in-law whom I was very close to. So like you I felt like I was an expert on loss and grief, but then tragedy struck again…and the thing I want to ask is what if it is your own son who is grieving the loss of the “love of his life”? I loved her very much too so I am grieving the loss of this beautiful angel who was taken way too soon…

    And everytime I think of my son and the several other strong young men carrying that beautiful white casket down the center isle of the church, and when passing by the isle I was in seeing my son hunched over looking like he was going to crumble with tears streaming down his face….is an image that just keeps playing over and over in my head…

  8. Lorrie said on September 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm ... #

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your husband due to the terrible act of terrorism against our Country. I had not read your home page before I did my post under this subject. Had I read it first I would have known that you understand what it feels like to have a child who is hurting over the loss of someone they loved so much. I am in no way comparing your children losing their father to my son losing his fiancee. My heart goes out to you and your children as we approach the 10th anniversary of 911… God bless you for being so strong and creating your “unintentional life.”

  9. admin said on October 6, 2011 at 10:26 am ... #

    Lorrie – I’m sorry to her that your family has also experienced a great deal of loss. And I know the specific pain of watching someone you love go through their own grief. My best advice is to do what you would always do for your son – love him with all of your heart, listen to his needs, and recognize that his grief may likely come and go in waves. Check in on him, let him know that you are there for the good days and the bad, and try to help him build new ways to celebrate the memory of the one he lost. There’s no quick fix, as you well know, but the love and support of family and friends can make a huge impact on the heart of someone who is hurting.

  10. Babs said on January 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm ... #

    Hello Alisha:
    Our Family is in the midst of losing another family member to the BIG “C”..
    I wanted to reach out to my Aunt, my Mama’s Baby Sister. I was in denial about my own feelings, not wanting to face death again..
    We lost our Mama, then 20 months later we lost our Dad. 10 months later we lost a Sister to the Big “C”, then 3 years later we lost another (her twin) Sister to the Big “C” also.. I didn’t hear from many of my Mama’s Family members during their illnesses or after deaths, I felt abandoned. Now my Aunt is going thru the same process and I want to reach out to her, but I didn’t know what say, so chose not to call instead.. but Hospice is now in her home.. I just read your message.. “the only wrong thing to do is nothing at all.” I have to make peace with ME! I WILL call and say, “I’m sorry for NOT calling, I’m here if you need me”.. thank you a BILLION times for your words of inspiration! God Bless YOU! babs<3

  11. Dave Roberts said on January 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm ... #

    Alisha:
    What a terrific article with some great insights and wisdom on how we can help others who have and are experiencing loss. I have shared your article on my Facebook page and have gotten some great feedback.

  12. mary snell said on January 16, 2012 at 9:18 pm ... #

    i must say the loss of my daughter 9/5 /11 changed my life i dont always cry as much as i did my nites are getting better i dont show people when i go out my pain inside i just put a smile on and do thur my day cause i feel like people have enough to deal w/every day they dont need to hear my pain so i go to 2 support groups and yes i let it all out there cause they know what im going thur some days are real great some are sad but im going to make it nothing is easy in life

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