For someone who has lost a parent, the sense of loss and grief never really goes away–it lives just beneath the surface, bubbling up at unexpected moments. And then there are those moments throughout a year–their birthday, the anniversary of their passing, and even holidays typically associated with celebrating relationships like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that can be painful.
As a friend, family member or co-worker of someone going through something like this, you may find yourself wanting to reach out and offer support during these times. We know these are sensitive topics to broach and you may have hesitations about not knowing exactly what to do or say, but we’re firm believers that it’s better to try to reach out than to ignore it or say nothing at all–so we’d like to offer these tips to help you along:
What does it mean to show up?
Showing up for someone who may be suffering doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be a phone call, a cup of coffee or a handwritten note. “A new friend of mine lost her only son years ago. I remember being struck when she shared with me how painful her first Mother’s Day was because she didn’t know if she was ‘still a mom’ after he passed. It broke my heart and I wanted to ease her pain. So I decided to show up for her even though I was terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing. But I went with my gut and sent her a card reassuring her that in fact she is and always will be her son’s mother and that I’m personally grateful for her friendship,” shares Christine Rich.
Understanding the grieving process
The five stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is not a one-size-fits-all process, and it’s important to know that everyone will move through these stages at their own pace. Someone may want to be alone during one phase, but really need you during another. Mother’s/Father’s Day may be one of those times.
It’s not about you
Although it can be helpful to have stood where someone else is standing when it comes to hard situations, it’s important to remember that everyone has their own story and path. If they ask you how you dealt with certain situations, definitely let them know what helped make your journey easier, and lessons you may have taken away, but be mindful that you are letting them ask before you openly share.
Stand the test of time
The days and weeks surrounding a loss or receiving difficult news are the most sensitive. They also seem to be the time when people literally show up the most. Meals are cooked, cards arrive in the mail, voicemails are full from people checking in, etc. But as the weeks turn into months, and even years, this activity naturally scales down. This is probably the time when people need you the most. If you don’t normally see these people on a regular basis, set reminders to check-in, invite them out for an occasional cup of coffee, or stick a card in the mail if distance is a factor.