Grieving for the grievers

Written on April 21st, 2012

One of the hardest things is being there for someone who doesn’t know what they need.

Because you don’t know either.

You know what they’re going through, but you don’t understand what that means exactly. They lost a loved one. How do you react to that? How do you stay strong for them? How do you be positive without underrating the awfulness of the situation?

“I’m sorry” just doesn’t cut it, even if it’s true. Even if you are sorry. You can’t just say a few words and make everything okay again.

So you hug them. You let them know that you’re there through your embrace. You don’t smile. You just bury your face in their shoulder and hope that you’re not shaking too much from seeing them so in pain. You want to be a rock. Something solid they can hang onto, something that won’t change while everything else in their life appears to be crumbling. But even that’s hard, because their pain affects you, too.

What you’re going through watching them hurt is nothing compared to what they have to deal with… and it’s realizing this that is so horrible. It may be difficult for you to be there, but your difficulties fade quickly compared to theirs. And it kills to know that someone you care about is going through such living hell and you can’t even help it. Can’t even comprehend it.

So you stand there. Silent, keeping your expression frozen. You put out a hand to comfort them, lightly touching a shoulder or an arm, conveying gentleness and sincerity in the gesture. But that’s not enough. You see them crying, surrounded by others who are crying, listening to people talk through their tears, crying, crying everywhere. You want to cry yourself but you bite your tongue knowing that the second you break down will just make things harder for everybody else. You are grieving for the grievers, not the lost. And that means you don’t cry.

It means your eyes follow them as they leave after a shaky hug. It means you watch their steps carefully, praying that they will be okay and knowing that they won’t. They’ll get through it, not over it, and there’s a difference. Every day will get easier, and you know this. But how do you tell them that without being insensitive?

You can’t say that the person they miss is in a better place. Because to them, there is no better place than back by their side. Heaven is little comfort right now because whether it’s selfish or not, they miss someone, and that thought overpowers every other. You can’t tell them it will be okay because those words are so shallow they mean nothing. So you don’t say anything and rely on unspoken words being the loudest. You hope that just being there means something. That maybe by sitting in a pew surrounded by stiff air and tears and tissues can prove your love, demonstrate your devotion. But in your heart, however clichéd, you understand that it can’t.

You notice them becoming withdrawn and quiet. They’re doing their absolute best to stay the same and you wish they would just accept the fact that they can change. They should change. And it’s okay to not be okay. But who would ever admit that when they want to come off as strong? They apologize for not talking well, they feel bad for being so down. And all the while you just want to hold them and say everything they’re feeling is valid and understandable and you will be there no matter what. No matter how horrible and hard things get, you will stay. That is exactly what they need to hear but when you tell them all they can get out is a feeble thank you and a forced smile. It still counts.

You tell them you’re thinking about them when you aren’t around. How are you doing? How is your family holding up? You are almost constantly keeping up one word conversations because you feel it’s your duty to be there regardless, and it is. If you love them you will sit in near silence, you will respond to all their short answers, you won’t press and you won’t pry. You will be the one to assure them that if they need to talk, you’ll listen. If they need to cry, they can. But you can say any number of sweet and lovely things and not deaden their pain at all. And at the end of the day, that’s the worst realization. You can’t help. You will continue to try with hopes that maybe, just maybe, something small will be beneficial. But you know it’s all futile and you stay there anyways. Why? Because if you care, you care. And not even the truth can change your mind.

It’s hard to be there for someone who doesn’t know what they need, but it’s worth it in the end. When the pain lessens and the shock is over. When the memories are happy and more funny than sad. When they look back and cry, but smile through the tears because they finally realize what kind of support they had.

No matter how much they lose, someone will always still be giving. And that’s what they need to hear, in their heart more than their ears. Maybe you can’t always help, exactly.

But you can always love.