Grief for Dummies (apologies to the book since it likely exists)

Last week I had the honor to be a guest poster on my friend’s fantastic blog while she vacationed. Below is the post I sent her. I’ve added in some photos as well! Be sure to check out Building Our Story. Censie has great reviews of baby products, giveaways, and entertaining stories. Give it a read!

Dad and tiny Caleb in the NICU

This year so far has been probably the toughest of my life. Some might look at all that I am blessed with and think, what on earth could be so bad about her life? That is because grief is not something we wear on the outside. There isn’t a scar that people see across a room. There is no sign or mark above my head plainly informing the world of all I deal with daily. I still dress in stylish clothes, fix my hair, and spend time with friends. I laugh a lot and I cry a lot too (which if you know me is entirely normal).
But what most cannot, and some will not, see about me is that I am living in a season of intense grief. On March 17, 2011, after 18 days in the ICU, my dad died of acute renal failure stemming from viral pneumonia. He was 56 and healthy as a horse. This completely blew my family out of the water. No one, not even his doctors expected this outcome.

I am the definition of a Daddy’s Girl. I have rarely ever been truly angry at my dad, though I’m sure I was often a challenge for him! While in many ways I am like my mom, in personality and other innate character attributes I am exactly like my dad. He understands me in ways others cannot. I don’t even always have to fully explain, Dad just ‘gets’ it. We used to talk daily, often multiple times a day because one or the other of us would think of something to call about, creating yet another 30 second phone call before we forgot. Having that type of relationship so quickly and permanently ripped from my life is something I will likely never get over. At 25 years old I was not ready to deal with this. I still had another 20 years before it was time to start prepping myself for that eventuality. Yet here I am, dealing with the death of my Daddy and trying to be a good wife, mom, friend, and daughter. It is a lot to juggle, believe me.

Sadly this is not the only grief I’ve had to deal with lately. I also recently found out that I was pregnant, only to miscarry a week later. This is my second baby that I won’t meet in this life. It stuns me that I am a mother of three but I’ve only met one, my son Caleb. Losing a parent is devastating. Losing a child is different yet equally life-changing. Both types of grief are something that the vast majority of people have no clue how to deal with.

August 29, 2011 - Lil pea here and now gone

It isn’t their fault. If you haven’t been through this type of grief, losing someone so very close to you, you just won’t understand. At the same time, in our culture we don’t talk about grief. Growing up no one teaches you what to say to someone who is grieving or how to act. Most people are just winging it. I’ve been there. I’ve been the one who was winging it and now I look back and pray that I didn’t cause additional pain to those I know who were dealing with the death of a loved one.

Now I’m on the other side. I am the one that people awkwardly spit out condolences at all the while I can tell they are wanting to run the other way. We don’t like dealing with grief and death. Chin up, sweep it under the rug, move on. So, based on my experiences and those of people I know, I am going to share a quick and easy Do’s and Don’ts of dealing with others’ grief.

Don’t . . .
1. Say, “Everything happens for a reason,” “God knows what He is doing”, or especially “God’s timing is not our timing.”

Each of these, especially if it is someone dealing with a miscarriage or stillbirth, come off as rude and insensitive. Sure, they sound good and just what they teach in Sunday School, but to someone who just lost a baby all they will be thinking is, “Really? God had a reason for my baby to die instead of living a full life? He planned this to teach me something because His Plan is better than mine?” All I could think when people told me that about my miscarriage was that MY God would never take a baby’s life. And He doesn’t. It happens, sure, but He didn’t cause it any more than I did. He will use the experience to teach me and strengthen me, but God did not cause my baby’s death just to teach me a lesson.

2. Say how tragic it is. Clearly, death is always tragic. It is heartbreaking and heartwrenching. Anyone who keeps lamenting on about how awful, terrible, horrible, and tragic it is should expect that the grieving person they are talking to will have a look of disgust and a strong desire to dropkick you across the room. Nothing worse for the person who is truly upset to have to listen to someone yammering on about how sad THEY think it is. Really? Shut. Up. I promise the grieving person is fully aware of the situation and just how ‘tragic’ it is.

3. Say you understand. Unless you have lost a parent, spouse, baby, best friend, whatever the situation is, you DO. NOT. UNDERSTAND. But you know what? That is okay. No one expects you to understand what you haven’t experienced. However, claiming that you understand what the grieving person is going through will only cause them to feel as though you are trying to one-up them in the life sucks department. Remember this: empathy is being able to understand and identify with what a person is going through. Sympathy is feelings of sorrow and sadness for someone else’s misfortune. If you haven’t experienced it, you have sympathy for the person. Don’t try to empathize and make them feel as though their grief is less important…aka don’t make it about YOU.

4. Expect me to spill my guts to you if we have never been close. Our level of friendship will not change from acquaintance to BFFs just because someone died. When deep in the throes of grief, those whom you are closest to are the ones you want around. Those who typically are good in small doses or have never been someone you consider your inner circle you typically want far, far away. In short: the people you would usually want to spend time with are the ONLY ones you want around and the people that kind of annoy you normally now make you want to pull out your hair and yell profanities in foreign languages.

5. Expect me to answer my phone, emails, or texts, and do not get angry and offended when I don’t. As soon as the Great Tragedy that is death occurs, the grieving one is flooded with phone calls, emails, flowers, visitors, etc. and it all becomes very overwhelming. First, they are dealing with the death of someone they love and now they are being contacted en masse by everyone they know via every type of communication device. It is simply too much to handle. People fall through the cracks because too much is happening. Do not take it personally and turn it into drama of your own. Likely they either turned off their phone or were so inundated by people that they couldn’t keep up. (When I finally checked Facebook after Dad died I had over 100 notifications….I closed my laptop and slowly backed away).

6. Expect me to call you. If you want to spend time with me, keep calling or texting me because I’m just a bit busy dealing with this new feeling of intense sadness while trying to do day-to-day basics. It isn’t that the grieving person doesn’t want to see you, their good friend, they are just not going to remember to call, or for that matter who it was who said to call. And really, would you?

Do . . .
1. Say how much this sucks. . . Because it DOES. Period. No getting around it. Losing someone special in your life sucks hardcore. Another great thing to say is, “I’m so sorry you are going through this.” If you care about the grieving person at all, you are sorry they are experiencing this hardship. It makes much more sense than saying a plain “I’m sorry” because unless you killed the person, it isn’t your fault and the apology doesn’t do anything.
2. Offer to spend time together. Coffee, dinner, going to the movies. Just because someone is sad doesn’t mean they want to constantly dwell on it. In fact, it is good to get out for a change of scenery and to do something other than sit around in your pj’s surrounded by a mountain of snotballs, bawling your eyes out.

3. Offer to help with meals and normal daily basics. While not everyone completely shuts down in times of grief, usually basic things like eating are not top priority, especially if you have to cook it yourself. In addition to meals, things like laundry, cleaning the house, or even walking the dog can be a HUGE help and relief. Simple daily tasks can seem insurmountable and overwhelming while dealing with the newness of death.

4. Make them laugh! It may seem inappropriate but I promise it isn’t! Even if they start to cry again after a good laugh, that is ok. That short burst of happiness and endorphins as you laugh really brings relief from grieving and is refreshing, even if short-lived.

5. Keep calling, sending thoughtful notes, etc. after the hub-bub of the death and services have died down. So many people think to do and send things when everything first happens. Often so much that you read a ton of cards but later have no idea what they said or remember so-and-so sent it. But then the funeral is over, family goes home, and the weeks pass on. The life of the non-grieving person moves on  and returns to normal while the people deeply affected are just settling in to the realities of their loss. My mom had several people who continued to send her cards in the mail in the weeks and months after Dad died. Just cute and thoughtful little notes to brighten her day and remind her she isn’t alone. I had an amazing group of ladies who sent me all manner of gifts and cards in the weeks after Dad’s death. I had some other friends, too, who sent cards later on that I actually had the presence of mind to read and appreciate. It was nice to know I wasn’t forgotten. I had a friend who was grieving tell me how everyone left her alone to heal but then she felt abandoned. Just a quick call, email, or note in the mail does wonders for the spirit!

6. Talk to me about the person I lost. Obviously for a miscarriage this is a bit harder to do. They never got the opportunity to know their little baby and thus stems a large portion of their grief. But even with a miscarriage it is ok to talk about it, if they are willing. For other situations it helps tremendously to share favorite stories and memories about the person they lost. It keeps them alive and brings back memories they may have forgotten.

I hope this has been an informative and somewhat entertaining tutorial on how to help those you know who are dealing with a loss in their life. I could think of many more things to do or not do, but I’m probably about to lose your attention. I think I’ve covered the main ones that tend to drive me nuts. Don’t misunderstand, the thought really does count. Your friends who are grieving will truly appreciate that you at least tried, since many don’t, but they will love and be grateful for you all the more if you can use some of these helpful hints. Grief changes your perspective on life and people. You do not want to be ‘that guy’ that made it worse. You’ll never escape it in their mind…



Filed under Baby, Faith, Family, Grief

8 responses to “Grief for Dummies (apologies to the book since it likely exists)

  1. Barbie, I am so sorry you are going through this. I didn’t know about your second miscarriage. I am so, so, sorry and I will keep you in my prayers.

  2. Alanna

    I love your writings!! 🙂 I’m so sorry you’re going through this – honestly! And as for your dad, just know I considered him like a father in many ways. He was so open, funny, loving, filled with God and made GREAT BBQ sauce!! I have so many good memories from when y’all visited DC when Robert was in college. Your family is, and will always be, VERY special to me. I prayed for your dad from the moment I found out he was sick, until he went to be with our Father. I grieved for days afterwards… I remember his monthly anniversary and even if I don’t reach out on that day every month, it’s engrained in my heart. I love you and your family so much – always remember that!! 🙂 Much love and virtual hugs, sweet, funny Barbie. Will be praying for another bundle of joy to fill your lives, and am grieving for the one you lost.
    alanna 🙂

  3. Oh hun, I’m so sorry to hear this. I can not imagine going through the loss of not one, but two loved ones within a few months of each other. I agree with your “Do’s” & “Don’t’s” list whole heartily. Though I didn’t lose my dad, I almost did… I came a little too close, actually. And after spending months in the ICU with him after the accident, I dealt with a lot of people who did not even want to talk to me because they had no idea what to say. While I understand that my situation is not as severe as yours, I can totally sympathize.

    You’re in my thoughts, hun! xo

    • Jenni, Dad being in the ICU was so trying and a different kind of grief and pain, but still grief all the same. I was not prepared to deal with him even being hospitalized so young. I thought I had 20yrs before I needed to prep myself for the possibility! Going back and forth was exhausting and once he was on the vent it made it 1,000x worse, we couldn’t even converse with him. I am SO so glad your dad is alive and well! I’m sure you cherish every moment you have with him.

  4. Carly

    Wow, Barbie.
    This is a really, really great post. Your do’s and don’t are SO true, and your openness with blogging about these big hard life things is admirable. Just wanted to let you know that I can empathize with some of what you’re dealing with and I’m so sorry you’re dealing with it. It does totallllllly suck. But you should be totalllllly proud of this post 🙂

  5. Janna

    I just saw your post on my Facebook about reading Heaven is for real. I did not know about your Dad. I am truly sorry to hear this. So I came to your Facebook to find out when he this happened and came across your blog- which by the way your a very captive writer! I identify whole heartedly with this blog on grieving. I teared up and laughed in total agreement of your Do’s and Dont’s, as if they were my own words. It’s been two years and 4 months since my mom passed and I don’t cry as much but it is just as painful. I’m truly sorry for the loss of such a pillar in your life. It’s hard to find your way again after losing someone you talked to daily, someone who knew you almost better than you know yourself. We’re not supposed to lose our parents at 25 are we!! I’m also grieved to hear of your miscarriages, it was cool to read about that in the book heaven is for real. We do not have any children yet- been trying for a year and just started with fertility clinic. Also, I saw by your picture that your son was in the NICU. I’ve been working in the NICU for almost 2 years and love every minute of it. Looked at some of your pics- you have a beautiful family. I know it’s been along time since we’ve communicated. I just wanted to send a note of empathy and prayers your way. Please send my condolences to your mom.
    Love, Janna

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