My husband died in 2018. Colin (pictured) was a bicycle commuter and was on his way home from work on April 10 when he was killed instantly in an accident, just blocks from home. We were 16 days shy of our 15th wedding anniversary.
I’ll spare you the details, but I knew something was wrong when Colin was late for dinner. Taco fixings sat on the dinner table, waiting to be eaten. Our 9-year-old son, Thom, played video games while asking about every five minutes, “When is Daddy going to be home? I’m hungry.”
In the months that have followed, Thom and I have learned to navigate as a family of two.
We’re still trying to find what people love to call our “new normal,” whatever that may be. We’ll never move on from what happened; we just move forward. Grief never goes away.
I’ve learned a lot this past year. I’ve learned the difference between sadness and empathy. I’ve learned you can feel happiness and despair at the same time. I’ve learned there’s beauty even during the lowest of times.
And I’ve learned many people don’t know what to do when someone they love is grieving. We don’t talk about death enough, so our only references are those unrealistic Hallmark movies.
If you know someone dealing with loss — whether with the loss of a partner, a parent, a child or a friend — you need to show up. When dealing with grief, you learn who your real supporters are, and it will surprise you.
Show up: And continue to show up. Everyone shows up right away. But when the funeral is over and family members and friends have headed home — that’s when things get hard.
Bring that hot dish over on week one, but bring one over a month later, six months later, a year later. Show up and continue showing up. Even if it’s just a quick text that says, “Thinking about you.”
Think before you speak: People say horrible things when they don’t mean to. At Colin’s funeral, someone hugged me and said, “You’re young and beautiful, you will find someone else,” like that was on my mind.
People love to say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” “God has a plan,” or “He’s in a better place.”
I always want to say, “Well what reason is that?” or “Well, death wasn’t part of our plan!” or “Lucky him, because Thom and I are in a real horrible place.”
Never say, “I know what you’re going through,” if it’s followed by A) “I lost my pet last year,” or B) “I’ve gone through a divorce.” Neither are comparable to the death of a loved one.
If you don’t know what to say, “I’m sorry, I have no words,” is perfectly acceptable. However, saying nothing is never acceptable — it’s worse than saying the wrong thing.
Offer specific help: Saying, “Let me know how I can help,” is not helpful. People grieving don’t always know what they need, nor do they want to ask people to help.
Instead, offer up what you’re willing to do. Can you do yard work or shovel snow? Say so. Willing to watch the kids one evening a week? Do it! Will you clean their home or get groceries once a month? Put it on their calendar.
Don’t judge: Grieving people will make decisions you may not agree with, but it’s not your life.
I started dating someone four months after Colin died.
People love to say things like, “It’s too soon,” as if there’s some magical acceptable time to start dating again.
We all grieve in different ways. For me, it been living my life to the fullest extent as possible, even when there are times I feel like crying my eyes out in the shower — or screaming, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!” in my car at the top of my lungs.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating grief. But when it comes to supporting those we love going through the worst of times, being an A-plus supporter doesn’t have to be as difficult
as we often make it out to be.
Rachel Brougham is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Minneapolis. She enjoys crying in Target aisles, often makes people uncomfortable during conversations and has the best support team imaginable. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @rachbrougham.