Personalizing the Grief Process: One Size (Method) Does Not Fit All

I was socializing with a group of friends the other day. We began to share our experiences with grief. I stated that grief is a very personal, unique situation. If someone is going through the grief process, it is a good idea to ask them how you can be of assistance to them. One friend chimed in her disagreement. She stated that what she would want most is for someone to just show up and “do”.  This person would appreciate someone stopping over and just saying, “let’s go for a walk, here is lunch…let’s eat together, how about we sit out on the porch and enjoy a cup of coffee.” However, another companion replied that is not what she would want at all. She felt she would need time to be by herself and process her thoughts and emotions. A drop by friend would seem imposing because she would feel the need to put on a “happy face” and play hostess.

After this enlightening discussion, I asked myself what I would want. I realized mine was a more complicated answer. One thing was simple: I would want and like some help. Yet, the correct implementation would be complicated. Since I am a very old, stoic Scandinavian….someone would really have to insist on helping me before I would relent.  My answer would typically be, “I’m OK, I’m fine, no, there is nothing I need”. Next, I would find it fairly easy to ask for a hug, to go for a walk or out to lunch. However, I would have trouble asking for help with tasks I feel are not pleasurable like taking me to the doctor, chores, and computer work. Another aspect to my personality becomes problematic.  I am a very routine, regimented and set-in-my ways person. Someone just showing up out of the blue would break up my plans and would send me into an anxious tizzy. It would do more harm than good. Therefore, a caring friend trying to help me would not only have to insist but would need to set up a time that is convenient for both of us. (Yes, I know I’m a bother).

Because we as human beings instinctually know this is a complicated situation, we tend to opt out by doing nothing. Thoughtful words or gestures are always good. But my moral to the story is true help depends upon what the person really needs or wants. The gift of kindness is a beautiful thing. If you are really willing to go the extra mile for someone, give them a chance to tell you what would be truly helpful.