This past month has been an incredibly painful month for us as a family, for Bobby in particular. Bobby's younger brother, Randy, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2009, right around when we started dating. Ever since, Randy has had numerous struggles with his health, mainly due to his cancer treatments. Mid September, we got the call that we have been dreading...Bobby was asked to make a trip back to America because Randy wasn't expected to live much longer.
Bobby did make that trip and was able to say his final goodbye, along with his Mom and older brother. Randy held on and fought hard, and he ended up living almost exactly a month after we received that phone call. He passed away on October 14th.
It's been a whole new journey for me, walking through the grief of losing a loved one. I am blessed to say this is the first loss of an immediate family member. My Great Grandma died when I was about 10 and I was old enough to remember, and then my Great Grandpa died a few years later, but it was different because I was so young...and we lived several provinces away when both of them passed away.
It saddens me that I never really got to know the "healthy Randy", but I so wish I did. To be honest I can't say that I was close with him, mostly because we never got to spend much time together, but because he was Bobby's brother, I'm affected in an unavoidable way. Just as we said in our vows, Bobby's sorrows are my sorrows, and when he hurts, I hurt. Watching him lose his brother and see him hurt in a way he's never hurt before is one of the hardest things I've ever been through. I feel so helpless and just wish I could make his hurt go away. And being so far from his Mom who is so very deeply affected by Randy's death is extra hard as well. I long to be there to comfort her, and I long for Bobby to be able to grieve physically alongside his family.
All that to say that although Randy was not my brother by blood, I am still hurting and grieving too and this has been a hard month.
I want to write this blog with the advisory that I am by no means "an expert" in this, and my thoughts and suggestions are probably personal...everyone grieves differently, and I'm only speaking from my experience so far, which is fresh. I've come up with some of the ways that you can help me through this time, and maybe use it to be an encouragement to someone you know that's walking through grief as well.
I also want to say that I don't write this to make anyone feel guilty about what they have or haven't done for me or us as a family. We have been surrounded by love and support, and these things are just certain things that stand out in particular to me and have spoken to or would speak deeply to my heart. I write so that I remember, and can use my experience to help someone else.
-Please remember that although this wasn't my brother, or even my side of the family, I still hurt too. My husband isn't the only one who could use a hug or an encouraging Scripture.
-When you say you'll pray for me, really pray for me...either right there with me, or type or write it out...it's powerful!
-Admit you don't know what to say, rather than try to come up with "the right words"--because sometimes sympathy cliches just make me hurt even more...especially since to my knowledge, my loved one wasn't a believer. Things like "his suffering is over" and "he's in a better place" make the pain hurt more.
-Let me cry without holding back...better yet, cry with me. It acknowledges my pain and shows genuine empathy. Ideally doing this in a setting where there's freedom to cry is best...for example, it's really hard to "flip a switch" and put on a happy face when someone conveys their sympathy right before a church service begins or you're in a public setting and I can't fully let out the tears that are welling up in my eyes.
-Try to think of practical things you can do to help because it's hard to think clearly about what I/we really need, let alone just ask for help...food is always helpful, but try to keep in mind that we might not feel like eating...a meal that can be frozen or eaten later is extra helpful.
-Sometimes it might be better not to say anything, rather than try and relate to me by telling me of someone else's loss. Unless you truly have walked the same path, (for example you lost a sibling at a young age too, or lost a dear friend to the same illness rather than talking about your friend's cousin's daughter's uncle who had the same type of cancer) it just doesn't feel as painful as my own pain and loss.
-Please offer to watch my kids for an hour or two as soon as possible...kids can be a good distraction through grief, but I also need time alone or as a couple to cry and talk things through, not having to put my "brave face" on for the kids.
-Just be with me. Remind me that you're here for me and you know my family and I are hurting...and don't put a timeline of when I should be "back to normal" because these feelings will always be a part of my life now.
I just finished a really helpful book called "Please be Patient With Me, I'm Grieving". It's a fairly short read but it's really helpful. I think if you're anything like me and you've never really had to deal with loss before, it's really eye opening and practical to the emotions of a grieving heart.
One of my biggest takeaways from it so far is the reminder that grief never really goes away, and it's a lot like a roller coaster. People describe it as being hit by a bus over and over again. Just when you feel like you're on the road to recovery, something reminds you of the person you lost and you find yourself back on the laying road again, feeling like the bus just drove over you again, re-opening wounds you thought had healed.
The griever's life will never be the same again. It's important to acknowledge that, and be there for them...all along the way. When everyone else seems to have moved on, the griever likely hasn't and needs your help to try and establish a new normal, without the person they lost. Their grief doesn't go away. Be there with them, and really try to remember dates of significance when they will most definitely be experiencing the pain all over again, such as the loved one's birthday, holidays, or the anniversary of their death. The simple act of remembering and acknowledging will mean so much to them.
Hopefully this mix of a summary of that book and my personal experience will help someone reading this understand more about grief and loss. If nothing else, as usual, the act of writing this out has helped me with my own feelings and emotions and I'm glad I took the time to write this.
As I mentioned, this is my first experience with close loss and looking back, I can see how I have said or done something that might be considered insensitive and wish I had of read something like this, and known how important it is to continue conveying sympathy beyond what people usually would.
I know it's awkward to walk through grief with someone and feel like you don't really know what you're doing because I've been there...but please try. You never know what kind of an impact something that you think is insignificant might mean to someone who is hurting.