The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Death

Don’t Know What to Say (to a grieving friend)

The Holiday Season is looming. For those of us who are missing a loved one, this time of year can feel like being flattened by a runaway truck. Everywhere we look, there are stories and images of (mythical) happy families celebrating together. In the midst of grief, this can increase feelings of isolation and despair. So…what can you say or do to support a grieving friend? Here are some things to remember, whether their loved one died last week or last decade:

“Showing up, in whatever way you can is what really matters most.” – Jodi Whitsitt

You probably don’t know what to say. That’s okay. There really are NO “proper” words for dealing with death. Simple acknowledgement of that fact is helpful. I recently discovered a CD about grief by Olivia Newton John and others. They perform a song about this uncomfortable lack of words. You can listen to it HERE. (The rest of the songs are excellent reflections on grief, as well.) Just BE with your friend. After our son died, I have a special memory of a dear friend who came over a few weeks later and just sat in silence with me on my couch, both of us curled up under cozy blankets, drinking mugs of hot tea.

It might make YOU feel better to spout platitudes: “he’s in a better place;” “God works everything for good;” “she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Don’t do it! Find ways to make yourself feel better on your own time. When you are with your grieving friend, it is better to say something like this: “I have no words to say” or “I’m so sorry.” It might feel inadequate…but you really can’t “fix it” so don’t try! I have forgotten what most friends said after my son died…but I always remember the co-worker when I finally got back to work who said “there are no words” then gave me a long hug.

Wanna help in practical ways? Please do not make the vague statement, “if there’s anything I can do…” Folks who are grieving have foggy brains. They have no idea what they need help with! Pick a specific task that fits that friend, then do it. THIS ARTICLE tells a story of the significance of polishing shoes. For me, the friends who took turns picking up my younger kids for playdates were an invaluable help. Bringing a meal for the family is traditional…and helpful. But one friend thought of something others hadn’t. She brought us bags of useful paper products: TP, Kleenex, and paper plates/napkins.

THIS ARTICLE makes suggestions for 13 practical ways to help a grieving friend. As she says, “Just Show Up!” Awkward is better than disappearing. Remember to continue reaching out to help in the months and years after the funeral. More than just asking how we are doing (which at least acknowledges that we are not forgotten), give opportunities for us to talk about our loved one. We long to know they are not forgotten. I treasure the occasional photo or anecdote about my son that my friends continue to share with me (like this one, posted on fb eight years after his death).

There aren’t many resources for using art and words to process grief. From my experience, I have written a few online classes. Consider sharing this information with a grieving friend—or check it out for yourself! The first class I wrote is relevant right now: “Hope for the Holidays.” You can find a link HERE including a description and a code for free access for the first month.

As I have written in previous blog posts (HEREHERE and HERE) death and grief are perhaps the greatest (unwanted) adventure. Please reach out and encourage others who are in the midst of a life-changing grief-journey, especially now as the holidays approach.

The Last Adventure

Life can be filled with adventure. Or it may be spent quietly at home, in a gilded cage of routines and responsibilities. We get to choose how we live. Eventually, however, we run out of choices. We face the last adventure: Death.

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

I haven’t written any blog posts in the past six months. It felt like I had little to share. I wasn’t pursuing epic adventures nor was I making much art. I was staying involved with my folks as my Dad’s time here on earth was coming to an end. His heart beat its last rhythm on April 28, 2017

It felt like this was a time of small deeds, of simple words, of loneliness and isolation. Looking back, however, I realize these same things are elements of what makes an adventure “epic.” It is in overcoming obstacles large and small that humans are stretched beyond daily routines. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, an epic adventure is “any task of great magnitude.” Looked at through that lens, these past six months have indeed been a big epic! What can be greater than helping a loved one move on to the next world even while helping oneself and others grieve that loss here on earth?

My dad lived a life filled with adventure. He traveled many places around the world, both for pleasure and to help others. He adventured on the water and on long road-trips across the United States. He finally fulfilled his dream of taking epic motorcycle trips—to all four corners of the USA and even in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa!

In the past year, Dad gradually lost mobility. Other health issues limited the time he could sit in a plane or in a car. His last trip was to visit family in Montana (my son and his brother) and in Idaho (his nephew). He treasured the memories of that adventure, even in his last few weeks.

Although his health was declining rapidly, Dad enjoyed a family gathering at the end of the year. He was “tickled pink” to welcome a new grandson-in-law to the family and meet the fiancé of another grandson. A few weeks after the party, Dad realized his prayers had been answered: he had the opportunity to see his family members all together one last time.

During the winter, Dad’s world continued to shrink. He could no longer go to the airport to say hello or goodbye to traveling family members. With the cold weather and his limited mobility, Dad enjoyed the few days that were sunny enough to sit outside. Eventually, even getting to church became too much for him.

I sat with Dad weekly through the winter and early spring. Talk meandered here and there: sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about practicalities of medical issues, sometimes just sitting together in silence. I treasured those times…and so often I cried myself to sleep on those nights. How can you bear seeing your dad struggle more and more with life? How do you say goodbye to your dad?

In the last ten days of his life, Dad’s world closed in around him, even though he was still at home. He was confined to bed. He needed help to eat or drink. He couldn’t even move without assistance. My siblings stayed at the house twenty-four hours a day, helping Mom to care for Dad. I came in each day, to give the caregivers a break. During this time, my sister and I spent hours playing his favorite hymns. He took comfort in the music just as he found moments of calm in prayer.

And there was waiting, lots of waiting. Dad dozing and crying and begging for the waiting to be over. His family staring out the window, taking walks, seeking the comfort to be found in nature. All of us asking God for hope and comfort and a peaceful passage for him into the next world.

At one point, near the end, Dad asked “When will this trip be over?” Finally, he took his last breath, and started his new journey. We are still grieving his loss…but this photo summarizes the last adventure quite well:

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

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