Monday, June 3, 2019

Help Them Help You

May 31st was the anniversary of my mom's death.

She died when she was 46 and I was 18.

Mid-morning on the 31st, I texted Tim and Margaret reminding them that this was the day my mom died. They sent back short texts of sympathy, and I appreciated it. I also wrote on the family wall calendar "Mom 31 years." These two actions gave Tim and Margaret the greatest chance of reaching out and acknowledging my mom's death. Instead of waiting for them to show up for me (OR NOT) as I've done many years in the past, I chose to help them help me.

That's often how it is with grief. The griever is the one who much educate others how best to help. Give me space. Don't give me space. Say his name. Be silent. Talk. Listen. Go on a walk with me. Celebrate a holiday with me. Ignore this stupid holiday with me. My mom died and I want you to mention it.

Is this fair to ask of an already depleted person?

Absolutely not. But if you are grieving, you've likely learned that not much is fair anyway. However, the alternative is for even more pain to be piled on top of pain as we feel unacknowledged, forgotten, or misunderstood.

Shortly after Jack died, my friend Mary seemed absent. I am not saying she wasn't there at our house or for the funeral, but it felt like she was silently disappearing. I knew she loved Jack, and I knew she loved me. I spent an enormous amount of time and energy wondering what Mary was thinking and why she wasn't reaching out. I worried that her own grief for Jack was overwhelming.

Over text we decided to go out to lunch. After talk of mundane topics such as church news and how her son was doing in Algebra died down, I told her I missed her and broached  how she seemed unwilling or unable to grieve Jack with me. To talk about it. To acknowledge the shock. To voice how f*ing unbelievable and devastating it was that Jack had died. Really died.

 It was awkward.

We both cried. She explained that she'd been giving me the space and privacy she thought she'd want if one of her children died. My snarky side wanted to say that I'd been documenting my grief for thousands of people and she surely could have found clues on my blog, but I didn't.

For a lesser friend, I would not have brought up my disappointment and needs at all, but I cared enough about Mary to want to help her help me. Then, she could decide what to do with the information.

That's why I texted Tim and Margaret about my mom last week. Life is disappointing enough. People are disappointing. I know because I disappoint people regularly and fall short all. of. the. darn. time.

Honestly stating our needs can feel risky and vulnerable, but it gives someone a greater chance to be there for us in the ways we need. My friendship with Mary was never the same, but I am glad I said what I did.

If there is a specific way a friend or family member could better support you, consider showing them how, even if you might be angry pissed annoyed that you even have to.

Posting on Facebook on Jack's birthday, the anniversary of his death, or other important dates, and giving people the opportunity to comment, is a huge comfort to me, and it doesn't require anyone else to remember the dates. This is one of the ways I help others help me.

Maybe you can remind your friends that Mother's or Father's Day is tough, or that this was the month your baby was due.

Help someone help you.



Karen L. said...

Very good advice and very practical as well. I lost one old friend when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. She called me to tell me she was "letting our friendship go". I had done all I could do be healthy-looking, wearing a wig, etc so as to not make my friends feel awkward around me but that still wasn't good enough. She just couldn't handle being around me. Lessons to learn from that for all of us. Some just can. not. handle. it. (whatever "it" is)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, and condolences on your loss.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I think you did the right thing. I know I would probably wait all day for someone to say something to me when technically we can't expect them to remember everything in our lives. ((Hugs)) You were so young. My mom was 56 when she passed.

Deborah said...

Thank you for today’s post. As so many of your posts are, it seems to be perfect for what I’m going through now. I suppose that happens when we are both mother’s who have lost a son (child). Why does it seem that people in general (with a few exceptions) believe that grief is something you should be over within a set amount of time? On the anniversary of my son’s death and on his birthday I am so disappointed when family and close friends either don’t remember, choose not to say anything or don’t simply because they feel it may make it harder on me. I know I’ve made it clear to those who’ve asked that it’s more important to me to hear people talk about him and that any tears that conversation about him may cause is nothing compared to no acknowledgement. It’s gotten to the point that on special occasions (ie: Birthday, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, THE ANNIVERSARY) that I think maybe I shouldn’t post anything because I’m afraid people will think I’m asking for their sympathy. But then I find myself being hurt when I don’t get that little message that they are thinking of me. Thank you for letting me know that 1. I’m not the only one who feels this. and 2. Sometimes people just need a little reminder or chance to acknowledge it. I want you to know that sharing your journey has helped me (as well as so many others I’m sure) in so many ways.
Thank you, Deborah

Shelley Wendel said...

I read all your posts but comment very rarely.
Please know that I am out here and thinking of you.
I lost my husband suddenly 4 years ago and although everyone wants to help and asks about me, I feel like my (at the time) 19 and 23 year old sons got the short end of the grief attention. They still struggle a lot from losing their cherished dad. I like the thought of asking people to help you, help me. I feel like people want to help but when we continually say no thank you, they feel like they are respecting our wishes.

Love all the funny Andrew stories. Glad Margaret is doing well. I think of you all everytime I hear of someone losing a child. I laughed out loud at the post about the texts between you and Tim and who could run away first!
Hang in there you are doing the best you can and are doing way better than you may think.

Sorry about your mom. Some grief you can never get over. With great love, comes great grief.

Your internet friend from afar. :)

Debbie A said...

This is such great advice and a lesson I learned in my early 20's about helping others remember significant dates (both good ones and bad ones). I decided to see if my boyfriend would actually remember my birthday (we had only been dating a few months), so I did not mention it to him - such a silly game to play. Of course, my birthday came and went, and he did not remember! I did not even hear from him on that day! I realized then that not everyone is good with dates or remembers things like this. I now call people to schedule my birthday lunches, happy hours, dinners, etc, and I celebrate the entire month of my birthday because so many people are now aware. While this example is nowhere near yours, your advice to help people help you is spot on. Thank you for sharing this very real moment with us and offering ways to help others needing our help.

Lisa C said...

Thank you for this, Anna. Thinking of you, your mom, Jack and the rest of your family, too...Congratulations to Margaret on her graduation - big milestone, and I am sure it is bittersweet. xoxo

Sheila said...

May 26 was the 33rd anniversary of my Mom's death. She was 55 and I was 22. My youngest sister was 18. August 15 will be the 30th anniversary of my Dad's death. He was 57, I was 25, and my youngest sister had just gotten married on July 1. For the six of us kids, it was the last time all of us were together. It was the last time I saw my Dad. This year, I am telling everyone about the anniversaries. I don't know why but I am. It has been very helpful.
Thank you for this reminder that if we don't let people know what is important to us, they can't help us through it.

Alison said...

As someone grieving I had never thought of this, but you are so right. Why let the pain compound in silence. I guide my husband and children all the time in how I want them to treat me and others, why not guide them in this too. i'm going to try, thank you so much sharing and the comfort your blog brings me.

Kristine said...

Wow 31 years is a long time. It's been 18 months since my mom passed. I have had to educate my husband a lot about the grief process sometimes quoting directly from books as he actually thought I should be over my mom's death bumy now. I completely agree with your advice. Thank you for sharing and hugs to you.

Jan said...

Wish I had read this 8 years ago when my husband died suddenly. It was as if a plague wiped out most of 'our' friends and the few that stayed didn't want to remember. I was too afraid to ask for help and never thought to help them help me...

Thank you and God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I love your attitude. Too many women expect other women to play guessing games. Sometimes I guess right and other times I guess wrong, but I try hard to approach every situation with thoughtfulness and compassion, but I can't help but feel it is somewhere between frustrating and abusive that I am expected to play these mind games with people. I don't know if I have undiagnosed Asperger's or what but what seems to come so naturally to other people is so stressful for me and I hate it when people leave me to try to figure out what they need. (The basics and obvious things I have covered.) It is so much more kind, more loving, and healthier to tell people what you need rather than sit around pouting when they miss the mark. Thank goodness for people like you. Sending hugs and prayers. I am sorry your mom died so young and I'm glad you help your family help you on hard days. Praying for you as always.