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Walking with Grief

or How To Be a Constant Friend When Words Fail

I keep writing about my wonderful friend, J.G., because she’s on my heart so much. Every day I wake up and I think about her, how she’s feeling, what she’s doing, what I can do to be a good friend.

I keep researching the right things to say, the right things to do, and all the advice is the same. DO reach out to them. DO listen. DON’T avoid talking about the lost loved one in fear of making them cry. DON’T disappear because you are afraid you won’t know what to say.

I’ve done all those things. I do them every day.

I keep looking for the magic answer. The thing that will make the grief just vanish. But there is none. And all I can do is be there. And be there for the long haul. And it will be a long haul. It will be every day, probably for the rest of our lives. And I’m good with that. Because it’s important to me.

I just decided. I decided I would bug J.G. every single day. I teased her that I would bug her, that I wouldn’t do go away. But it was more than a tease, it was real. I wasn’t leaving her. I wasn’t leaving her family. I wasn’t going away. I was stepping up, even if it’s just a joke and a text everyday, I was stepping up to be that person for her long term. 

And it surprised me a little bit. I never thought I could be that person. But here I am, and I’m doing it. I’m refusing to forget, I’m refusing to back down, I’m refusing to leave her alone. I want her to know she’s got someone she can trust to be there. I want her to know that when she’s ready to talk about things, I can be there for her. I want her to know that if she needs anything from me she knows I’m there.

So far she hasn’t actually asked much of me. I’ve come to almost expect that she’ll never actually know what she really needs, and if she does she might not have the strength to ask. That’s okay, it’s still too raw for her. I’ll offer to come over to help and she’ll say she’ll let me know, then never lets me know. I’ll offer to go somewhere particularly difficult and she won’t reach out and say “okay.” These things are fine. The simple fact that I am offering is helpful. These things I’m offering to help or do are HARD for her. They present her in a place of real weakness.

But there have been times that she has reached out to me first. Just to tell me something because she needs to tell someone. And I’m always happy when that happens! It gives me great joy to know she will reach out when she needs to.

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. I’ve learned J.G.’s grief. And there’s still much to learn about her grief. I will always be learning. So, what have I learned in the last two months of walking with J.G. in grief?

1. Don’t tell her how strong she is. 

Seriously, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t WANT to be strong. She wants, maybe needs, to be weak. She’s tired of being strong. Everything about her being strong is just frustrating. I think I’ve only said it to her once or twice, and when I did I saw in her eyes how frustrating to hear that actually is. I’m going to stop telling her how strong she is. She’s tired of that crap. I don’t blame her.

2. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence

I’m not a licensed therapist. Quite often, I have no words to say to her. If we’re talking and I find I have no words, I just tell her I don’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, I have no sage words of wisdom for you.” That was a good one. She nodded and said, “No, I know.” Sometimes, she just doesn’t want advice. She doesn’t need me to fill the silence. Sometime she does. And when I feel the need to fill the silence I try to say things like, “I know you’re hurting. I’m sorry I can’t make it go away.” When she tells me what she’s feeling I tell her it’s a fair place to be. Only she knows how to deal with what she’s feeling. I like to tell her things like, “It’s okay to be angry.” “It’s okay to cry.” “It’s okay to be sad.” But I especially like saying, “It’s okay to smile.” “It’s okay to laugh.” “It’s okay to be silly.” I like giving her permission to feel what she’s feeling and that there’s no right or wrong way to feel.

3. There are good days, bad days, half and half days and none of the above days

Just because I see her smile in a meeting doesn’t mean she’s not still torn up inside. Just because I give her a party hat to wear to make her smile, doesn’t mean the tears aren’t still there. And just because she’s crying doesn’t mean she’s incapable of smiling again. Just because she’s having a good day doesn’t mean that the smallest thing isn’t going to bring tears to her eyes. It’s a long long road that she must travel. She’s going through a pain that no mother should ever have to go though. Constant support is what matters.

4. NEVER think that just because she doesn’t respond or call back or answer the phone that you are not appreciated. 

I can’t stress that enough. Seriously. I text her every single day. She doesn’t always respond. In fact, I go days without getting a response from her. Sometimes I call and she doesn’t answer. So, I sing her a song. It’s usually a song I made up. It’s usually a bad song that I make up. I know, for a fact, that she reads my messages. I know she listens to my messages. I know she loves them, appreciates them. I know they mean the world to her.

5. Never be afraid to talk about Olivia or to say her name. J.G. needs to know her littlest one hasn’t been forgotten.

At first I was mildly afraid of posting The Tiniest Heroes. I started writing it for myself. But then I thought I wanted to share it with the world. I wanted everyone to know about this tiny person that changed so much in my life. I needed everyone to know her name. So, when it was done, I asked J.G. for her permission before I posted it. I didn’t want to blind side her, I didn’t want her to think I was capitalizing on her grief, I wanted her to know my heart. It wasn’t about me. It’s NOT about me. I wrote that, and I’m writing this for her, for Olivia, for the world. I’m writing this because people need to know this little girl. And J.G. isn’t the only mother to lose her baby, and I’m not the only friend trying to walk with someone in grief. If even one person reads this and reaches out to a grieving friend, my work here is done. If even one person is affected by Olivia’s story and lights a candle or says a prayer, my work is done.

I was putting important dates in my calendar. J.G.’s birthday, her husband’s birthday, their wedding anniversary, and yes, Olivia’s birthday and her death date. But I didn’t have their son’s birthday, so I let her know that I needed it to put in my calendar and added that I put Olivia’s birthday in too. I’m sure she teared up a little, but I wasn’t afraid to tell her that. I want her to know that her littlest one isn’t being forgotten. And on that day, I’m not sure what I’ll do for her, but I’ll plan something. Maybe it will be something to honor Olivia, maybe it will be just a cup of coffee with a friend sitting in silence with tissues close at hand. Whatever it is, it will be something.

6. Q-Man is not a replacement for Olivia.

Q-Man is awesome. Like, the coolest four-year-old in the world. But just because she HAS Q-Man doesn’t mean that she can’t/shouldn’t/doesn’t need to grieve Olivia. Just because she already has one child doesn’t make the pain any less. And acting as such, or saying those things are wrong. Just wrong. In saying something like that, you are basically negating the fact that Olivia was a person. That J.G. carried her for 9 months, held her and cared for her for 6 months, loved her, STILL loves her and misses her every single day.

There’s so much more. So much more I have learned. So much more I can learn. But that’s a different day, a different post. Today, is just one day. Maybe it’s a good day, maybe it’s a bad day, maybe it’s none of the above. But it is only a day. And tomorrow will be a new day. A different day. Maybe a better day.

This post has been submitted to January 2014 NaBloPoMo. NaBloPoMo is a month-long challenge to post once a day on your blog, hosted by Blogher. Each month has its own theme. January’s theme is “pressure.”