When I was ten years old my grandmother (we called her MeMe) passed away. My MeMe was awesome. As a child we would spend every Friday night at my MeMe and PoPo’s house. Our parents would drop us off in the late afternoon and MeMe would cook us some of the best home cooked meals. After dinner we would usually sit with our grandparents, play board games and watch The Duke’s of Hazard on TV, most of the time while enjoying a Root Beer Float or something else really good for dessert. MeMe would tuck us in to the pull out sofa bed for the night. I can still remember the painting that hung on the wall. My grandfather would leave early on Saturday mornings to deliver mail so Saturday’s were all with MeMe. Saturday morning was another unbelievable home cooked breakfast, followed by fun inside and outside the house. We would many times even be allowed to bang pots and pans while marching around the house to marching band music or play in the citrus trees in the backyard (but never when PoPo was around). Most Saturday’s MeMe would take us to McDonald’s for lunch, we would play on the playground there and then head to a store called Yellowfront (like a Dollar Store) for us to pick out a small gift. Our parents would pick us up Saturday afternoon to head back home.
Many times I am reminded of MeMe through smells, taste and fond stories and memories. I remember when MeMe died it was very sad. It was probably the first time I had experienced sadness in my life. I remember It was the first time I noticed my dad cry. I remember my whole family had a lot of sadness when MeMe passed away. To this day we all still share so many memories of her. As I look back on my life since then I have been in the process of grieving her death the whole time. Little comments and situations can bring up the memories I have of her. I realize I am still in the process of grief for MeMe.
The thing that sticks out in my mind the most is that I didn’t really go through a 5 step process or any predetermined steps of grief. To be honest I have never done this. Grief is a process and it is very unique for each individual. Many people try to put grief and loss in a box and give you some remedy or system to overcome it. It just doesn’t work that way.
In my life I have experienced death in many ways. All my grandparents have passed away. Family members have passed away. Friends have passed away. Students and clients have passed away. I have even watched as my dog Dakoda passed away. You know what though? I am still in the grieving process for ALL of these people (my dog too).
I have had the honor to walk alongside many friends, family, students and clients as they have processed grief. What I have found is at some point in our life we will have grief. So how do we help those we love and support work through their grief? Here are some tips that I have learned along the way:
- Listen and Be – Many times we feel like we need to say the right thing right? “So sorry for you loss”, or ask the right questions “Is there anything you need?” People who have lost someone close to them may not need you to talk or ask questions. Many times they just need you to Be with them. They need someone to hold them, cry with them, hand them a tissue and hear their hurt.
- Watch Out For Negative Responses – Many people will cover up their grief with substance or alcohol abuse, risky behavior, excessive sleep, and withdraw from social settings. Be on the lookout for these behaviors and help them get the right help and encouragement they may need.
- Every Loss Is Unique – I mentioned this before. The loss could be an extended family member, a co-worker, a classmate or someone known but not close. While other losses can be a spouse, a child, a parent, grandparent, best friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, or someone very close. A loss can even be a pet. Also, keep in mind that loss comes not only in physical death. Many people experience the loss of a marriage, a broken relationship, a home or a job. Also keep in mind that many of these losses happen in different ways (accident, health, age, etc).
- Talk About Positive Memories – Talk to the person grieving about the things they like most about the person they lost. Ask about their favorite memories with that person. This helps the grieving person focus on positive feelings, instead of the hurt and loss they are feeling.
- Remember Grief Is A Process – The process of grief has no time limit. It may go on forever and that’s ok! Just remember grief is not so simple, it’s a process.