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What I wish my friends had said to me after my mom died by Chelsea Gray Nov 20, 2018

It’s hard to know what to say to a friend who is grieving. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

“How are you doing?”

This is the question I heard relentlessly from friends, co-workers, and acquaintances after my mom died. Most of the time, I wanted to respond with “I have zero fucking clue.”

Some moments, I felt surprisingly okay. Some moments, I worried that this overwhelming feeling of grief would never go away. Some moments I was worried it would. Some moments I didn’t want to talk about it, others I wanted to talk about nothing else. Explaining all that felt impossible — it still does.

My mom passed away two years ago. The grief was unimaginable. Nothing can prepare you for what it will feel like, but one aspect I was particularly surprised by was just how many uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes straight up offensive conversations I would have with the people in my life after it happened. These were people who wanted to be there for me or say the right thing, but didn’t know how to do it.

I don’t blame them. Our culture doesn’t do a great job with processing death. It’s one of the most jarring experiences to go through whether you’re experiencing loss yourself or watching someone you love go through the grieving process. None of it is easy. But we can’t avoid it.

After my mom died, it seemed like my friends had no idea what to say to me

When I found out my mom was dying, I tried to scrape up any vision of what grief might look like. I watched movies, read about grief, tried to prepare myself, as if grief was some kind of final I could cram for the night before. It didn’t work, of course. Right after my Mom died, I was sad, angry, frustrated, nostalgic, strangely thankful, then sad, then angry again, you name it — I felt it all, usually all within one day.

This whirlwind of emotions made it so hard to interact with my friends as I normally would. I’m sure it was difficult for them, too. How were they supposed to help me if I wasn’t sure what kind of help I needed from them in the first place?

I often found myself giving them passive answers to pacify their questions: I felt like they didn’t really want to hear how I was really doing. I can recall multiple conversations generally starting like this:

“How are you doing?”

“Actually, I’m having a hard time. I’m not sure how I’m feeling most of the time. I keep thinking about the moments leading up to what happened. It all feels very surreal. ”

And then generally, a lot of people in my life would response with variations of these answers:

“Oh … I’m sorry for your loss,” followed by uncomfortable bouts of silence. Or: “That is just so sad. I can’t imagine what that would be like for me,” followed by a quick change in subject.

These kinds of answers made me feel like they just wanted to hear that I was doing okay, and that anything else was too much for them to get into.

But as I moved farther away from the day my mom died, I found myself wanting to talk about my experience with grief, not to mention her, constantly. I also noticed that this candid conversation I craved also continued to make people around me uncomfortable. It felt like any time I’d voluntarily bring things up, people would change the subject. Or they’d shift the conversation to something less “depressing.”

I understood what they were doing, but it wasn’t what I wanted. What does it mean if the thing that helped me grieve my mother made the people closest to me uncomfortable? What did that mean for me and my process — and not to mention, my relationship with these people?

So for a while, I decided to remain frustrated and confused. It felt like I couldn’t be myself around some of my closest friends. The only thing I really wanted was to talk about my grief, but I felt that I had to censor myself. I started saying less about my mom. I started being less blunt about how I was feeling. It was just easier that way.

Then, my frustration turned into flat-out anger. I was the one in pain — why did I have to be the one to accommodate everyone else’s feelings? It felt selfish to think like this, but it was the truth. Then, in the midst of this less-than-admirable rage stage of my grieving process, something strange happened.


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