“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Right after Thanksgiving I lost a family member, not a blood relation, but that just sounds like stupid semantics so I insist on calling him my cousin. I knew this boy since he was born, I spent holidays with him, I laughed with him, I teased him (and he teased me), and over the past two months I have grieved for him.
The news stopped me dead in my tracks and I burst into tears, I could not imagine how his mother and father and sister reacted. At the beginning I felt that my grief wasn’t important as it paled in comparison to his mother and father’s. This was the second child they had been forced to bury and that is sorrow and pain that I cannot fathom.
I was in the middle of studying for finals and I really did not and do not care that my exams were affected by this because in the grand scheme of life, I’d rather remember him than review for finals. His life was so much greater and vibrant.
How could I express my feelings of sorrow and compassion to his family? I had never lost a family member before except for a great-grandmother, and I had never been so close to death. There were so many things I wanted to tell them but I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I knew that saying nothing would be horrible so I went with: I love you so much, I am so sorry, and I am here for as long as you need me.
Was that enough? Probably not, but what else was there?
Dealing with sorrow and loss isn’t easy and there is no correct way to do that. What is important is that you are there for the grieving parties. Telling them that you are there and actually being there for anything they need, large or small, is what you need to do. I imagine that the sorrow of the loss of a loved one is something that never ends and being a true friend is what makes that sorrow easier to bear.
I scrambled to find out what I should be doing because I felt like I had to do something because I couldn’t just stand there and well do nothing. So I made some plans, and others made plans, and others who I didn’t know made plans. If I had to sum it all up on how to help a family through loss it would be this:
Step 1: Check in while they check out. Bring food, babysit, help sort out affairs, just figure out what things you’d need to survive and realize that they probably are not thinking about those things and bring them.
Step 2: Write it down. You can say all you want but they probably aren’t listening all too well and after they can breathe again they’ll want to remember your kind thoughts. If you drop by a card or a letter that is them hearing your words when they actually can process them.
Step 3: It’s a marathon not a sprint. They will be flooded with things right away but in a month things will have tapered and there is more time to think and dwell and that is when they will need those letters, those coffee dates, those walks through the park. After six months they’ll still need it.
I will always wonder what my cousin could have done with his life, I still wonder what his brother could have been and he has been gone for 24 years. I wonder what jokes Chandler would have told over the holidays, if he would have won the dice games we play, and who he would have married.