We Need Friends
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
Someone who read the book Tear Soup emailed me asking why I used on page 18 those particular words, “All brave yet fearful neighbors dropped by to see how Grandy was doing.“
What are we afraid of? We’re afraid we might make our bereaved friends cry because we are afraid of tears. We’re afraid we won’t know what to say, and we don’t, or that we will say the wrong thing, and we probably will. We’re afraid that if we really get too close to another person’s grief we might have to accept that this could also happen to us and we don’t want to believe that.
When we are going through grief we are often irrational, judgmental, agitated, inconsistent and angry. These are difficult and uncomfortable feelings to have to deal with whether we’re the one who’s grieving or the friend of the one who is grieving. And because the behavior of a bereaved person is unpredictable this can be a scary place to be.
How are we brave? We’re brave because even though we’re not very well versed at how to behave in the sanctuary of grief we go anyhow. We go because we know it’s the right thing to do.
Some of us go hoping to make our friend feel better, and so we talk non-stop hoping that sooner or later we’ll say something that will make sense out of this tragedy.
At a recent gathering to celebrate the life of a baby who died nine months earlier several of the friends and family of the bereaved parents sought me out to ask if I thought this service would finally “bring closure” for this couple. After all, isn’t nine months long enough to grieve the loss of baby who only lived 7 days? Is it healthy for people to continue this sad and tortuous reliving of the moment their life as they knew it ended?
The word closure, coming from the mouths of friends has come to mean for the bereaved “get over it”, or “It’s time to move on,” or, “You’re taking too long.” But usually friends and family just want the bereaved to feel better and they believe that not dwelling on the death (or incident) so much will make it so. Most of us do want to “fix” those we love. We hate seeing them suffer. We don’t want to believe that grief can be all consuming. We want them to be the familiar person we used to know and love.
What we’ve come to know is grief takes as long as it takes. We will all do it differently and in our own time. Rest assured that it will take longer than the bereaved want it to take and longer than the friends want it to.
Grief needs a face. We need someone else who will see how badly we feel and how much it hurts – someone who can acknowledge what they see, without judgment and absorb some of that pain.
We need friends with loving arms (to give hugs when we feel untouchable). We need friends with willing ears (to be sympathetic and non-judgmental – able to remember the important things and to forget the unkind things we will say).
Sometimes we may need a friend to help us face our guilt, self-pity, or bitterness. While learning life’s lessons of unfairness at some point, we are likely to become painfully aware that life does not owe us anything. Instead of saying, “Why me?” we can say, “Why not me?” Having a friend during these dark hours will bring us comfort as we absorb the depth of these words.
We humans are an impatient lot. We do like quick fixes. In grief, however, there is nothing to fix. We just have to be willing not to run from the pain of sorrow but allow it to change us as it changes our bereaved friend, hopefully for the better.
There is hope for us. We are capable of sitting at our own feet and being taught by ourselves how we are, who we are, why we are and what we can be. We can all learn how to be a friend to a grieving friend. After all, sooner or later we will all need one.