Do you know what helps you when you are grieving or in emotional pain? This is truly something that is important to know for those who are grieving and are in pain. The way that we seek or desire support and care in our grief will be different for all of us. Some of us are willing to ask for help and are able to be quite transparent in how we are feeling. For others, it is very difficult to identify how we are feeling or what we even need. For those of you who have read many of my blogs or writings then you have probably picked up on what I value during the grieving process and in my daily life.
Transparency has been something that I truly value in my own grief journey. I did not want to have to pretend that I was “ok” after the two deaths that my children and I experienced. My husband died of a work related accident in August 2011, and in June 2013, my only son was instantly killed in a car accident at the age of 18 just 22 months after my husband died. I did not know how to handle all of what I was feeling or experiencing. After my son was dead, my presence could be described best at that time as in shock and in overwhelming pain.
I want to be transparent in my journey and do not want to mislead others about how I am feeling or coping. I could sense that there were some that surrounded me that just wanted me to be “strong”. They wanted to look at my life and believe, “oh Kristi, she will be fine. She is strong.” It is indeed difficult to be around someone who is in such deep pain as I have been and still often do experience. Many people are uncomfortable with that pain. Their desire is to see that the one who is hurting is doing well because they want to continue on in what is going on in their own lives. They often feel helpless, and often that feeling of helplessness causes them to avoid the one who is hurting or they try to “distract” them from their pain. It is very difficult to just “be” with someone who is in a lot of emotional pain.
I tried to implement transparency in the most simple of ways. One example of this includes a common question and approach in our culture. A typical greeting in our culture is that when we see someone we say, “Hello. How are you?” Often, when that question is asked in a greeting, then there are many people that are truly not looking for an “in depth” answer. Often, others are just seeking to hear that you are “good”. After my son died, I felt the furthest from “good” that I thought that I could get. I decided that I was not going to answer this question in the standard way. I did not want to be dishonest and answer “good” or “fine” as I was not. However, I did realize that many people wanted to say the greeting and to just keep walking along in whatever they were up to. Therefore, I just would not answer the question. It was amazing to me how many people did not even notice that I did not answer, They would say, “Hello Kristi. How are you?” I would respond. “Hello! How are you?” To my delight, this simple greeting became so much easier for me. I did not want to start an in depth explanation of how I was to someone who was not seeking to truly understand. However, I had no desire to play the game and say that I was good or fine. This little switch that I learned helped me to not struggle so much with the simple greeting that is so standard in our culture.
Many times in my grieving when someone wants to know how I am, and they are truly asking, then I try to openly answer their question. Sometimes, the conversation would quickly shift to the other person sharing with me how upset they were about my son or my husband dying. Also, sometimes others would start telling me of someone else who had more people die then I did. They would say, “I know Kristi this is hard, but just think of the lady who lost her husband, son, and daughter all at once.” I think that people give these stories in grief thinking that the person who is hurting just needs to hear of someone else who has it “worse,” and then they will feel all better. This is not effective or helpful. When someone is grieving or hurting what they truly need is to be heard. They need their pain to be acknowledged. It is a priceless gift to have someone listen intently all the way through your description of your pain and then to receive an acknowledgement of your pain from them.
Support is different for each one grieving because we are all different. Our pain is all felt and expressed differently. Therefore, it is crucial to discover what the person who is grieving desires to express and how to hear their pain and grief. It is important that we recognize that there is not a formula that exists that we can apply to the person who is in pain that will “fix” their pain. Instead, we just need to be willing to be with them as they experience it and to hear what is helpful for them. We also need to be acutely aware that grief is ever changing, and what a griever needs and finds helpful one day may be completely different the next day.
I want to share some things that have felt so supportive to me through the years. One example happened last month. June is difficult for the girls and I. On the 4th we have PK’s birthday. We have Father’s Day on a Sunday in June. On the 20th of June my wedding anniversary occurs, and this past June would have been our 25th year. On the 26th of June is the day that PK died which is my most difficult day. My friend Delores who had to bury her precious son Brenten, (I wrote a blog “Tribute to a true warrior” on March 6, 2018 about her son and their family) sent me this text in June. “Mercy, I am not a fan of June for your sake! What a month!” This acknowledgement from Delores meant everything to me. Her words showed me that she had reflected on what I was struggling with in June and was acknowledging my pain. This text though short meant the world to me because of her understanding and message to me in it. Thank you Delores for being a priceless gift in my life. I love you.
Another example that occurred recently is a conversation that I had with my sister Kim. Kim and I were discussing Kylee’s month long trip to Africa. Kim shared with me in that conversation that she was proud of me for supporting and helping my daughter to go on her mission trip. She discussed how she knew how difficult it must have been for me to have Kylee travel so far away and for so long after the trauma that we had gone through. Her support and words of understanding were such a gift to my heart. What she said to me showed such understanding and support. These words meant the world to me my dear sister. Thank you for being a priceless gift in my life. I love you.
My friend Paula made sure that we went to dinner after I got through all of those hard dates in June. I always appreciate the time to go to dinner and sit and talk through the events and people in our lives. This is always a special time. I treasure each time that we spend time together and talk. It helps to go somewhere and to catch up. Although my friend Ericka and I live many miles apart, the phone calls where we completely catch up on each other’s lives is such a gift to me. She always “hears” me and provides much support. There are many others that send sweet texts and messages of love and support. Each person who takes the time to do this blesses my heart in ways that are huge gifts. I love and appreciate each one of you.
There are faithful friends who continually share my blog via social media and others who share it to those who are hurting. This is true support to me as I know these friends have heard my desire to grow the blog and are actively helping me to connect with others. Thank you with all of my heart.
There are so many other examples through the years that I can share. Our teams, school, community, and other schools showed so much support in honoring PK after he died. Each thing that was done to remember my son was the best gift that could be given to the girls and I. We truly knew that we had so many standing with us, and each expression that was done blessed our hearts beyond words.
Please know that I am just sharing a few examples to show how we were given support. Please know that if I did not mention you by name that does not lessen the blessing of your support. I am just sharing a few examples to illustrate ways that support can be given. I am truly thankful for each person and each gift of support that has been given to the girls and I through the years.
Support groups are helpful for many who are grieving. Of course, like anything, it is not helpful for everyone. I have not been a part of an “in person” support group at this time, but I have been in some online support groups. Often those online support groups are helpful and hurtful all at the same time. A new support group that I am in online is one that my friend Delores told me about. She told me about an online group that was for parents who had a child die. It is a closed group, and the administrators of the group have rules about what can and cannot be posted. It is a safe place for parents to post their feelings about the death of their child.
I think it is very good to have specialized groups or friends that have experienced something similar to our loss experience. When you have to bury your child, it is very difficult to listen to someone explain how they know how you feel because of how hard it was when their grandpa died. I am not minimizing how hard that death is. All of my grandparents died in very different ways, and my grief was very different in the four circumstances that occurred. When my husband died and suddenly I was a young widow and an instant single mom, then the struggles and grief that came with my husband dying was very different then what I experienced when my only son was killed. I have friends who have become young widows with children left to raise on their own, and friends who have had to bury their own children. The grief varies for all of us, but it has been extremely helpful in my grief journey to have people who have experienced deaths of similar relationships to talk to.
I think it is very positive and helpful to have groups that are specialized in the certain aspects of grief and of different kinds of deaths. I think it is also helpful to have friends that have experienced similar deaths that we have had to endure in our own lives. However, just always remember how different we all are. For me, the parents who have had to bury their child support group is a comfort. It is comforting because each parent on there who has had to bury their child understands the need and importance of being able to continue to talk about their child who has died. Each parent understands the need and desire to still have that child be a part of their life. The pain that is expressed is unbelievable. Parents feel safe about expressing their desire to be with their child and their struggle to continue on in their pain. Parents are at all different stages of the grief journey.
These are just some of my thoughts on support in grief. The grieving process is different for all of us. If you are experiencing grief, then please find out what is helpful and supportive for you and then please share that with those in your life who want to know. If you are friends or family with someone who is grieving, then please find out what is helpful to them. Don’t be surprised if sometimes they don’t know or if it continues to change as time continues on. Please remember that acknowledging their pain and being there for them are two of the greatest gifts that you can give. Thank you to each one who has and continues to provide so much love and support for the girls and I. We are ever thankful for each of you.
“Grief is the last act of love we can give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” Author Unknown”