Supporting a grieving friend is hard, WHY?

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Here’s what I have come to realize in myself and others; we size up how much empathy we are willing to shell out when it comes to hardship. There is a lot of shit going on in our own lives, and if you haven’t noticed, our world is on fire, so when something terrible happens to someone we somewhat care about, or deeply love, I have observed a common occurrence that takes place. We decide it is now a great time to assess our relationship status with this person. We ponder what we are we willing to give or withstand to support this person in their hardest moments; talk about shit timing, valid and necessary, but when the going gets tough, we want to know if we have it in us, or if we even like this person that much. Harsh, I know, but it happens. Similarly, the griever is also agitatedly evaluating the people around them; grief automatically puts all of our relationships under a microscope.

When someone we love dies it can accentuate how self-centered some people are, or that they are less than capable of feeling their own uncomfortable emotions, let alone being with yours. Again, valid, yet painful. Entering the scene; harmful grief platitudes or statements. People try to minimize your grief to make themselves feel more comfortable with it, so they say things like,“Well, at least you weren’t married.” Yes, because that changes what exactly? The title of widow vs not?

Or “you are young, you can still have another baby”

Or “I guess God needed another angel”

Or “you are going to need to move on at some point”

Or “you need to put this behind you,”

Or “your dad wouldn’t want you to be so sad”

Or “at least you still have your mom”

There is too much of this crap happening. Sit Aunt Rebecca down and tell her to be with her discomfort, and to say nothing like the statements above, or she’s getting locked in the closet. Also, how can we expect someone to support our hard feelings if they are disconnected from their own? People who are not willing to look at their own lives truthfully may have an adverse reaction to your vulnerability because they have learned to hide from theirs. There’s no crying in baseball, am I right?

There’s nothing like holding up a mirror to people like that and watching them walk, I mean run the other way, or double down on their bullshit, like they know how to do your grief better than you. Don’t expect a phone call from Karen or Barbara; they are too busy pretending they got life figured out, sweeping their issues under the rug, and hoping no one notices. We see you, Karen!

I googled what people’s greatest fears are, and the obvious ones made the list; flying and public speaking. But death and intimacy were on there too, and they are a lethal combination. It’s no wonder people have a hard time being around grieving people. A harsh dose of reality of your biggest fear happening to people close to you will make some people act in weird ways. Ask anyone who has experienced loss and they most likely have a story or two (or plenty more) about people being physically uncomfortable with their grief and then saying odd things to counter it. I am guilty of this too.

Some days I feel like a grief detective trying to figure out why the hell are we so bad at understanding other people’s pain. I ponder into the wee hours of the morning, what does a grieving person need? What do I need? Why are some people so shitty at this? Why is it so hard to support people who are grieving?

Sometimes we need to talk about our loved one (the good and sometimes bad) that has died — well, at least I do. There is this unwritten grief rule that you need to stow the memories of your dead person away to move on, and I think that is a load of horse shit. I am not going to take down pictures of my dad or friend that just passed away; in fact, I will put some up. I am not going to forget them to move forward; I am going to take the love I have for them, infuse it in me and carry that love for a lifetime. Grief should not be treated like a bad relationship that we need to get over; this doesn’t work.

Not everyone deserves to hear what’s on your heart. Know this, but also that it is nice to feel safe and vulnerable enough to do so if that is something we may need; hello, intimacy. Therein lies the issue as to why grieving can be so isolating — we are shit with death and shit with intimacy. I cracked the code, mom!

Another hindrance is being too emotionally burnt out to support a friend or family member. When you are feeling emotionally drained, you do not provide much space for those who are needing your support when you are trudging through your own life sludge. I have come to realize that we put a lot of expectations on ourselves as to what it means to show up for friends or family going through a hard time. And yes, some demand more out of friends and family than others.

A phone call, whether they decide to pick up or not, will not emotionally break you if you aren’t trying to fix their pain or offer solutions to grief, that is a waste of energy anyway. Grieving people don’t need you to put that much pressure on yourself, or to be cheered up. Just call and be silent for all I care, just listen or be honest and say, “I don’t have a clue what to say, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” That is music to my ears, and opens the conversation, rather than shutting it down by offering needless grief platitudes (because I promise you it will). No one expects you to be a professional grief supporter, yet so many people try to cheer up or fix their grieving friends, and their big ego gets in the way, when they say,