A few weeks ago, after Marc gave me a copy of ‘Just so you Know’ by John Pete, I tried to look Mr. Pete up online. In doing so, I came across a website called Open to Hope http://www.opentohope.com/ that has articles, videos, and a radio broadcast. From there I found a thirty minute interview with two moms who were finding their way through their grief and the projects they were undertaking. The one mom, Lynda Cheldelin Fell, started a series called Grief Diaries. On Amazon I found a variety of Grief Diary books: loss of a child, spouse, sibling, parent, etc. So I downloaded Grief Diaries: Loss of a Child and started reading the stories of other moms. It took quite a while to get through just their introductions and how they lost their children. Needless to say it was brutal reading. I think I’m only on chapter three. It’s not one of those kinds of books you just read in one sitting.
I also found another Grief Diaries book that I downloaded: Grief Diaries: How to Help the Newly Bereaved. On the cover it says: A guide of tips and suggestions from 22 experts who reassuringly answer your questions about what to say, what to do, and what not to say to the newly bereaved in your life.
It’s a book I wish I’d had years ago but I didn’t know then that grief hurt this bad and that my friends and family might have needed more from me than I was giving – or wasn’t giving! It would have come in handy too just before Bernadette died. It’s chuck full advice in point form and then each chapter ends with real life stories. I recognized a few contributors from ‘Loss of a child’. Other contributors were from the other Grief Diaries books, so it was a good mix. I confess though that after the first chapter I skipped the real life stories, saving those for another day. What I was really looking for was that advice on how to be of help.
It may sound strange to be seeking out that kind of advice right now, but if there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 19 months it’s that we need to educate ourselves on grief from the loss of a loved one just as much as we educate ourselves on other things. We are a society that thrives on self-help books. Why not educate ourselves on grief too? It was never a subject in school and it’s not necessarily learned in real life until it happens. If it’s not something we’ve ever had to experience then we’re woefully unprepared when someone we love comes face to face with death and grief. Or if we find ourselves dealing with grief. And there are different experiences of death and grief. Some aspects are similar but the loss of an elderly parent is not the same as the loss of a young parent, an unborn child, a small child, a grown child, a young spouse or an elderly spouse, a sibling or a best friend. Because they’re different we can’t treat them the same. I’ve become painfully aware this last year that I have no clue what Laureen is going through after the loss of Ron. I’m not even sure I can relate to what my mom is going through because Ron was my brother, not my son. So even though I may have experience in one or two areas of loss and grief, I still can’t relate to people’s experiences that are totally different. And it’s not to say that I’m ready to read all the Grief Diaries book to educate myself, but hopefully some day. At least now I know there are books out there and not to be afraid to read them when someone I know/love is suffering the loss of someone they love.
The other things that have helped me from reading Grief Diaries is a better understanding of what we were actually going through over the last year, and still are to some extent. Learning that a lot of the confusion, lack of memory and ability to concentrate, etc. was perfectly normal. One example from many is when people would say, “Tell us what you need.” They sincerely meant it. Problem was we had NO idea what we needed and no way of explaining that to them. The only thing I knew for sure was Zoe needed to be fed (which only I could do!) and her diaper needed changing. That’s it. It was too overwhelming to be able to concentrate on what we needed further than that minute. In Grief Diaries: How to Help the Newly Bereaved it explained all that and I was able to relax and not feel so guilty because I didn’t have an answer for everyone. Another thing that helped me understand another nagging guilt too was learning that certain phrases, of which I’d heard most, hurt a lot of other people too. Phrases that have been passed down for generations that don’t help! Phrases like ‘Time heals all wounds.’ Anything that starts with ‘At least….’ or ‘God must have needed her.’, ‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.’, ‘It’s God’s will.’, etc. As much as I’d smile at the person as they tried their best to offer some form of comfort, I was hurting inside because their advice or comments felt more like a thrust of a butcher knife than the intended verbal hug. It was so good to know that it wasn’t just me and that the pain was normal. Not only that, the book gave me suggestions as to what I can say in response from now on that might help ‘educate’ whoever is offering a standard phrase. Ah, now to have the courage to do it!
Another added benefit of reading Grief Diaries: How to Help the Newly Bereaved was that sense of knowing I wasn’t alone. Others have experienced the same excruciating pain and have survived to talk about it. It was similar to how it felt after reading How To Survive the Loss of a Child by Elizabeth Brown. I remember how much strength her story gave me in the first few months after Bernadette died. I still read a chapter of her book every few weeks and have it sitting on my desk as a reminder that I’m not alone.