A tragic accident took her son’s life. In a mere flash of a second he was gone … gone forever.
I had never met the mother nor the son, but my friend had. “What can I say to her?” she asked.
We’ve all been there—someone we care about is in the throes of immense grief, and we’re at a complete loss. We so want to lessen their pain … but how?
“Show, don’t tell,” I advised. “Sometimes words don’t cut it. Let the mother read your heart.”
An understanding look and a warm touch does just that. Such gestures convey “I’m here;” “Your pain matters to me.” That all sounds simple enough, but it’s hard to do. We feel more comfortable softening the awfulness, and our insecurities about death with statements like: “He’s in a better place now;” “It’ll get easier.” Comments like these may lift our mood but do little for the mourner.
My niece, Amanda, is a perfect example. Two years ago she lost her mother to cancer, and her suffering remains as intense and real today as it did back then. We were talking one day, and she expressed a particular form of anguish to me … an anguish I feel many people can relate to. I asked her to write it down so I could share it with you. She did and here it is:
Why do people tell you it gets easier?
Time heals, they say . . . but I don’t see it that way at all. If anything, it feels worse. I feel more alone without her holding my hand. I feel less love without her big hugs. I feel more sad without her beautiful smile. Everyday she feels farther and farther away … how could this be easier?
My heart tells me she isn’t far but I’m reminded everyday that she isn’t coming back. My fear of her disappearing from my memories keeps me on edge. I’m afraid I’ll forget what her hands looked like. I’m afraid of losing the memory of her laugh that once filled a room or her voice that would comfort me in times that I needed guidance.
Before she passed, and knowing she was leaving me too soon, I would sit in stillness beside her and find myself breathing her in. I studied her face—memorizing ever feature. Now I can’t picture her face, or the scent of her that takes me back. I don’t see how time could heal a broken heart when the person that filled it is slipping away.
Like Amanda, and the mother who lost her son, there are no words. Sometimes personal loss runs so deep that relief is elusive—the person’s grief is constantly felt just below the surface. Under those circumstances, the best we can do as comforters is respect that fact.
As a counselor I’ve found that I’m most successful when I suspend the need to fix and merely stop and listen … and let myself feel.
The heart trumps the spoken word when it comes to pain that’s as raw as grief.