I wrote this article over a year ago after the tragic loss of a young person in our community but am submitting now after another heart-breaking loss has resurfaced to the forefront of all our minds. The remains of Madison Scott, a beautiful young woman who went missing 12 years ago, have recently been found and our town has been plunged into shock, intense sadness, disbelief, anger and grief. It has been difficult for many (especially her family) to process this as 12 years is a long time to hold on to hope and fear regarding a missing child.
As this is a very high-profile case, many people have questions, theories and suggestions, and may want their queries answered or their voices heard. What is needed more than anything right now is privacy and respect for the family as they start their grieving process. Please send love their way.
Grief is a natural response to loss and something we will all feel in our lives at one point or another – it is inevitable, as loss is unavoidable. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel when we lose someone or something we love and it can be emotionally overwhelming with feelings of disbelief, shock, anger, regret, guilt, and profound sadness. Grief can negatively impact health by causing intense stress, diminishing appetite, preventing sleep, affecting thinking, and causing deep depression.
When we support each other, we often go into ‘problem solving mode’ and try to make things better for the other person. But when we are faced with an intense emotional situation like loss and grief (which we cannot make better), we often feel powerless and then uncomfortable, and may even avoid the person who needs our support. Many grieving people isolate themselves as it is more comfortable for them to be alone than to deal with others’ discomfort with their grief. Too often, the grieving person has to offer comfort to those who come to them feeling powerless to help.
Grief is a very misunderstood topic and most people have no idea how to help or what to say to a grieving person – especially if they have lost a child. There seems to be no greater loss than the death of our children. My heart aches for the recent loss in our community and I have been reading, as well as searching my own soul, to find answers on how to support parents and families who have lost a young member of their family.
It is so hard to know what to say. Even the most well-meaning people say things that are not helpful to those dealing with grief. ‘Don’t feel bad…had a good life...’ When someone is distraught, we may try to make them feel better by discounting their feelings, but feelings around grief are deep, raw and unfixable by anyone else, so telling someone not to feel bad is not at all helpful.
‘Be strong’ implies that we should not feel weak and helpless. Or ‘be strong for others’ may mean that we shouldn’t show our human feelings in front of others as we are worried that our emotions will affect them negatively. Grieving people need to give themselves permission to fall apart and express any emotion that comes up. This is part of the grieving process.
‘Just keep busy’. Distracting ourselves or hearing from others that we need to keep busy is not the way to heal a broken heart. It will just occupy our day(s) but will not help process grief.
‘Time will heal’ or it just takes time’. But with grief, time is tricky because some people don’t even start the grief process for many years after losing a loved one. But time will eventually lead to some emotional recovery. Belief and faith are very valuable in the process of grief recovery. Grieving needs to be allowed like a bath that we immerse ourselves into and permit ourselves the time and space to feel all the feelings in the present moment.
“How are you doing?” Even though this is the most common question asked of a grieving person, a truthful answer is often hard to give as we are conditioned to answer this question in a positive way so we don’t make the person asking uncomfortable. The statement “She/He is doing well after their loss” is a perception that can often be far from the truth. We don’t know the inner pain of another just because they have put on a brave face.
People in grief need to surround themselves with mindful people who offer support and care, to do the mundane things like helping with cleaning, chores, farm animals, food prep and cooking, gardening, or just being present with loving intention.
In offering support to those in grief, it is helpful to work through your own discomfort in order to be a safe and present friend. Listen with an open heart and be all ears, following every word and being totally there with them. Give them space and time to talk without interrupting or telling your own story. Talking about a loss can be difficult but also very helpful for those grieving. Allow anything to come out without judging it or correcting or saying ‘don’t feel that way…’ Resist offering suggestions or solutions. Imagine the kind of support you would want if you were in their shoes.
Talk about the individual who died. Share memories and things you loved about them, as grieving families appreciate hearing how their loved one made a difference or positively influenced others. When people avoid talking about the departed person, family can often feel that they are forgotten or that nobody cares. Connect with the family on birthdays and Christmas and holidays, as these can be particularly hard days to get through. Hug and cry together. The feelings need to be processed and grief cannot be denied. Grief has its own schedule and has its way with us whether we are ready for it or not.
Please seek mental health support and/or support groups to help get through the process of grief. With supportive people around us who have been (or are going through grief), we may find comfort in the realization that we are not alone. Blessings to the hearts of those who have experienced grief or are presently in a state of grieving and Rest in peace, Madison, with the knowledge of how loved you are by your family and community.
Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of www.elixirforlife.ca. The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.