When I was in my 20’s a close friend adopted a baby. She was a first time mom and I had two children plus was a nurse so I taught her about formulas, feeding, bathing and baby care. We spent many days and evenings together socially as couples and individually as friends.
Then one day I got a phone call saying the baby was found dead in its crib---SIDS (Only we didn’t call it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome then. It was just the baby died and no one knew why.)
Everyone (the whole group of us who socialized together) was in shock, no one knew what to say or do -------so we all did nothing. We went to the funeral and then to our homes. We didn’t call later, we didn’t socialize, we disconnected as if we never knew them. We abandoned this couple when they needed us the most. I cringe and feel shame as I write this even now after forty some years---one of my big regrets.
I tell this story because I would love to have a “do over". I didn’t know any better then, none of us did. Sadly, what we did is still being done today by many people. People, just like us then, who don’t know what to do or say and in their uncomfortableness send a card and flowers and then play the avoidance game.
My “do over” opportunity is to tell this story in the hopes that when others find themselves faced with a friend’s grief they will have the knowledge to address it better than I did.
Years later another friend’s child commented suicide. As my husband and I were going to the visitation my husband said, “I don’t know what to say.” My response to him was to just say that---which he did and the tears from both men began to flow.
What I know now is it isn’t what we say. In fact, there are no words that can be said to make a person in their grief feel better, to make the situation easier. It is our presence, our being there, our support that has meaning.
It is the showing up at the house with sandwiches at lunch time weeks following the death. It is the phone call in the evening just to say “Hi, I’m thinking about you.” It is the sitting and watching a sunset together, sharing quiet, connected moments. It is also listening to their story, again and again, with no judgements, no speculation, no advice, just listening and being there.
"No one has taught us how to act or what to say when someone dies. More important, no one has taught us what it feels like to grieve. We don't know how to heal the hurt created by grief or how to live with it." That is the first paragraph of MY FRIEND, I CARE The Grief Experience. Many give this book as a sympathy card and it costs less than a card at the drugstore. Hospices buy it to give to families when a patient dies. Clergy use it to comfort members of the church. Some buy it when they are at a loss as to what to say when a friend's loved one dies. It's here for you when you need it.