How to help someone dealing with grief

There is no manual for handling grief and loss, and there are no step-by-step procedures to cope with the same. On the flip side, dealing with grief is a lot like grappling in the dark. You will stumble and fall on many days. And just when you feel like you are coming through the dense fog into a lighter mist, the reality of loss hits hard. Over the past few days following the burial of our dear guka, it has dawned on me just how much simple acts of kindness go a long way. The magnitude of this realization lies in sharp contrast with the hurt that accompanies an aching heart when those you think will show up do not do so. I kept thinking to myself, how would I have loved for someone to come through for me during this grieving period? Here, I share lessons I have learned grieving the death of our guka. Granted, this is not exhaustive. Feel free to add more insight in the comment box at the end of this post.

  1. Reach out to console the grieving person, be present

When you receive the news that someone you know has lost a loved one, reach out to console them. You can do this on call or text. In the days gone by, I have found myself unable to pick calls because I kept answering the same questions… so the mode of communication may vary depending on the relationship you have. A point of caution however – if you do call, steer clear of filler words. It helps to be precise. I remember how much I appreciated friends who called with “I am sorry for the loss of your guka. May he rest in peace.” And in case anyone is wondering, please avoid asking the grieving person, “what happened?” It is likely they have had to explain this over and over. If they are comfortable, they will let you know without you having to ask.

  1. Continue to check up on the person.

This could be a simple text such as “Thinking about you during this hard season”, or perhaps “sending you warm hugs” or even “You are in my thoughts and prayers”. I remember been smirk in the middle of the grief period and someone asked me to help them with some online work. While there is nothing wrong with asking for help, it came across as rather insensitive because they were aware of what had happened. Let me not talk about those who, right after a ‘May he RIP’ message, will forward those political memes – Plain crass insensitivity IMO.

  1. Visit if you can.

One of the most powerful gestures of kindness we as a family have experienced during this period is the visits by extended family and friends. Seemingly simple, but it spoke volumes – because it meant someone had taken time off their schedule to comfort and mourn with us. I remember how, on the burial date, one of my aunt’s friends found my son and I in a teary mess (this death affected my son as well, in part because he could not understand the concept of death. His questions included: If guka’s heart had stopped beating, why was he still in the ‘box’? Why did we put him in the ground? What will he do under the soil? And so on. Questions I intend to address in a different post, which reminds me, has anyone handled grief in kids? How’d it go? Please leave a comment below)

So, back to my aunt’s friend, she found us, tears streaming down our faces, swollen eyes and all. She sat next to us in contemplative silence, and said nothing. Instead, she gave a warm embrace, said a prayer and requested food be brought for us. She probably doesn’t recall that, but we appreciated that simple act. Just being present meant the world to a mourning mother, her child and her cousins.

In the same breath, please avoid cliché phrases such as, ‘He is in a better place’ (what do you mean a better place? At the time, the best place he could be would be in our lives, the people he loved). ‘ I understand’ (No honey, you do not). ‘Be strong’ (I am trying to be strong, I am fighting, but right now I am failing in spectacular fashion – and it is okay). ‘Do not cry’ (This was the worst in all honesty. ‘scuse me, but how exactly do you want me to express and process my grief? Some people do not cry, and that is okay. But crying is one of the ways I am dealing with this, please let me be). ‘God knows best’ (Yes, He does. It just doesn’t make sense to me now) ‘ He had ‘finished’ his work here on earth’ (please just hush it)

  1. Help out whenever you can.

After the death of a loved one, families are often thrown into disarray and routines are disrupted, as expected. That’s exactly where one could come in to help. There are meals to be prepared, food to be served, dishes to be cleaned, homework to be checked, kids to be taken care of among other things. It may not seem like much, but someone who is grieving may not have enough strength to pull through daily chores. You may make financial contributions too if you would like. Note, while you may have good intentions in letting a grieving person know they can call if they need anything, this is usually difficult. For someone who is dealing with grief, identifying a need, picking who may be the best fit for that need and finally calling them feels too taxing. It helps if you say, “I will be there at 1pm to help with preparations for lunch,” or “I offer to pick the kids from school at 4pm”.

  1. Visit even after the burial

Most people visit the grieving family prior to the burial, but I am slowly realizing the importance of doing so after the burial. We laid our guka to rest this past Wednesday, and will be traveling to visit our grandmother every so often. People go home after a funeral, but the grieving family returns home to the stark absence of a loved one.

Lastly, it helps to keep the grieving family in prayer. When everything is said and done, grief never quite stops. It is something you carry with you forever in different ways.

 

What I am learning about grief

We laid guka to rest on the 30th of August following an intense week – moments of great joy, and others of overwhelming sadness. A week that saw many people reach out, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Our family is forever indebted to the amazing love we have received. The past few days or so have also been a learning lesson in grief and how to cope. Here’s what I am learning.

  1. Grief is not linear

I posted this on Instagram and as I pondered on this, I realized how often I overlooked this.

Grief is not a straight line, from point A to B. It is not something that you can deal with in a specified time period, or one to which you can attach a specific time frame. Some days you cope well, some days you are struggling to get through… Sometimes it feels like getting sucked up by rolling waves.

  1. Grief is personal

Coping with grief is a personal matter, that belongs to the griever. However you opt to cope is an individual choice. Over the years I have learnt my coping mechanisms, both good and bad, something which was highlighted during my sessions, and which I have blogged about here. Good coping mechanisms I am consistently reminding myself of include journaling, meditation, nature walks and adult coloring books.

In years gone by, I have realized the negative coping mechanism I have to unlearn is emotional eating and indulging in comfort food. In recent days,I have eaten more than my fair share of wheat and wheat products, which in all honesty I will deal with after this. Point is, however you’d love to deal with grief, do it your way. Be it painting. Coloring. Dancing. Watching ocean waves.

  1. Deal with your expectations

Grief will show you who your support system is, who is for you and who is present. I had to lower my expectations, because I am learning, quite a few of the people I thought would come through did not. And it is okay. Because the truth is I also have to deal with my expectations. I have to unlearn so much I thought I knew about grief – about how to process it, how to wade through it, how to relate to others.

 

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Grieving

Grief and loss – these are perhaps some of the most difficult emotions to capture in words. The past few days have been hazy at best. I remember vividly, seeing missed calls from my mom, aunt and sister, and the news I had been dreading all month was about to be broken. I could feel my heart get heavier, my stomach suddenly felt like it kept churning itself and my eyes got watery.

Guka rested,” my aunt said after pleasantries that cold Tuesday morning. The seconds that followed were a blurry moment. The tears came down hot and fast. Grandpa was gone, forever. My son was still asleep at the time, so I had a few moments to myself to let the news sink in. He had rested, he was no more.

His was a battle fought bravely, since 2003 when he suffered a stroke that left his speech slurred and somewhat incoherent to the casual observer. But he held on, for years. The effects of his stroke, coupled with diabetes complications meant his health status fluctuated over the years. He had to have one leg amputated, but this did not keep him from truly living. He would go for long walks (a kilometre plus) on his crutches, get back to play with his grandchildren – it encouraged and challenged as in equal measure.

Cucu was, and still remains a pillar of strength. She stood by him at his lowest points. She prayed for him. She cleaned after him. She spent sleepless nights taking care of him when his body got weary of holding on. She fed him. She was there all through, and she kept hope alive.

His last month was fraught with pain as his body fought on. He had to undergo a surgical procedure as a result of the complications. I remember my last hospital visit a day before he was discharged. He was frail, his eyes were sunken, and his hands pale. I looked at him and my mind could not reconcile the fact that this was the very man who regaled my sister and I with stories of his trips to Mombasa, his golfing days at Sigona Golf Club, the birth of his children. We knew trips to grandpa’s place would be filled with treats. Here he lay on a hospital bed, curled up in pain… He was a far cry from his former energetic self.

And so, when that phone call came, I knew the curtains had come down on guka. Rest well Guka, Rest. We loved you. And so begins a new norm, without you guka.