An open letter to my friends and family for when they’re grieving the loss of someone they love

I wish I knew what to say. I’m so unbelievably sorry that someone close to you is gone and my heart genuinely hurts for you. Beyond this though, I’m at a total loss for words. Yeah, I know. I’m surprised too. ME. I love words – I’m the most longwinded person I know – so reaching for them and finding they’re not there is disconcerting. It makes me feel like I’m not myself and like I have nothing of substance to offer. To be completely honest, I’m literally frozen up inside from fear. Fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Fear of not doing or saying the right thing. Fear of not being the kind of friend/support you need. I always fail as a friend when someone dies – every. single. time. I know this, but I don’t know what to do about it.

And I’m not writing this for anyone to try to try to make me feel better. DON’T DO THAT! Just. Don’t. Seriously. You experiencing the death of someone you love is not about me. This is just me sharing my heart to let you know that I’m not failing because I don’t care. I’m failing because I care so much that I simply don’t trust my instincts and I don’t know how to fix it. My instincts are to pick up the phone and call you immediately. My instincts are to jump in my car and go straight to your house to hug you. My instincts are to sit and pray with you (if you’re comfortable with that). My instincts are to bring you comfort food. My instincts are to try to take little things (that I’m physically able to do) off your plate so you don’t need to worry about them – like doing your dishes, cleaning your bathroom, running the vacuum cleaner, doing a load of laundry, etc. My instincts are to make us a cup of tea and just sit and listen if you need to talk. Or just sit and hold your hand if you don’t.

But everyone is so different. Grieving is so, so deeply personal. I don’t ever (EVER) want to intrude on anyone’s grief, and I don’t know if any of my instincts are what you need from me so I wind up freezing and not doing any of these things. Daily I’ve had to (literally) fight my innate instinct to jump in my car and just show up at your door (no exaggeration). I can text and call, but I don’t want to call too soon or too often because I know it can be overwhelming. And I don’t want to text too much because I don’t want to be a pest and make you feel like you have to call or text back if you don’t feel up to it. But then at what point do unreturned texts and voicemails become annoying to you instead of making you feel like “I’m so glad she cares – I’ll text back or call when I can?”

I know there’s absolutely nothing I can do or say that will make you feel better, but I don’t want to add to your grief by inserting myself where I’m not wanted or needed. (Not saying you don’t want or need my friendship, just that my presence may not be what’s wanted or needed right then.) I want to help you however I can, however would be beneficial for you, but as I said, it’s not about me. It’s not your job to make me feel better by allowing me to give you something you don’t need. I would even be happy to simply sit with you in total silence if that’s what you need. But even asking “how can I help?” seems like it’d probably be overwhelming for you. You may not even know how I (or anyone) can help. You may not be able to articulate it. But I also don’t want to make things worse for you by just barging in in the midst of your grief and deciding how to help. I want to be there and help however you need me to be. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to do that. I need to figure out a way out of this vicious cycle I’ve caught myself in (wanting to help but not wanting to intrude and not wanting to pressure you, but wanting to help…) In the meantime, please know I love you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about any of this. And please forgive me. I will try to do better.

~Lauren

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