When grievers are told that they should be “moving on”, what exactly does that mean? It was the topic of intense consternation for one of my clients recently. The first anniversary of her husband’s sudden death just passed. Seemingly intelligent people that she thought cared about and understood her asked, “Are you ready to start dating again?” Or said things such as; “Don’t you think it is time to move on?” Moving on and getting on with your life are not the same things to those grieving the death of a loved one. A person can get on with living but choose not to “move on” from the loss of whoever died.
Grief is individualized. You can take two people who experienced the death of their spouses at the exact same time, the same point in their relationship, from the same cause and each, will have completely different ways of coping with his or her feelings. They will not have the same depth of feelings. They will not heal at the same pace. They will not have the same experience. That is because the way we each deal with grief has been shaped by our lifetime of exposure and reaction to a death. So, if you have not witnessed the horror of watching your spouse die while you felt helpless and hopelessly out of control do NOT presume to tell anyone else how he or she should feel or live. It is not helpful and will likely get you cussed out, punched in the face or unfriended at the very least.
Be there for the griever. Tell him or her, I want to help you. Let me help you. I am here to help, to listen, to hold your hand in silence. Please do NOT make the griever’s painful experience about you. Do NOT say, “I miss him too.” “I loved her too.” “Call me if you need help.” Grievers don’t want to hear how the worst thing that has ever happened to him or her affects you. He or she is in the trenches and trying to survive. He or she will not have the energy to call you to ask for help. They won’t be able to reach out. So, if you truly care about a person who just had death destroy his or her plans for a future with the one who died, stay in touch. Check on him or her. Do not go silent and wait for the griever to reach out to you. He or she will see and feel your lack of contact as abandonment at the time he or she needs your support the most. Be a rock. Be there. Stand strong.
Shirley Enebrad is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist with 25 years of experience. For her many years of work with pediatric cancer patients and those grieving the loss of a loved one, she received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Angel of Hospice Award. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Coping with Grief and Six-Word Lessons for Surviving a Devastating Diagnosis.
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