What I Learned About Other People…When My Mother Died
If you have lost a parent, then you also know that you also lost a piece of yourself. You know that, although with time, you will eventually hurt less and the gut wrenching loneliness and heartache will pass. You will always mourn them, but one day you will be able to mention your parents without sadness and laugh at their antics. One day, you will be able look in the mirror and be happy to see their face reflecting back at you.
It has been 14 years since I lost my mother and I still often reflect on how I felt during that time and how others reacted to seeing me so hurt and lost. How ashamed people made me feel for being weak, sad and an utter mess. These were my friends, my best friends in some cases. Yes, I know that people want to say the right things but often do not know how, but I think that when you are a real friend, you try to love your friend when they are hurting. It does not take an Oprah special to tell you that.
Unfortunately, I don't have a secret recipe to share to help people to be a friend to someone who has lost a parent. But, I think it is important to know how to love someone, friend or foe, when they are hurting. I write this not as a condemnation to anyone, but an honest reflection of what I learned about other people when I was hurting from the loss of my mom.
1. Best friends will make you redefine the word "best".
During this time I had several ladies I referred to as my best friend and they did not come through for me. My best friend from high school who I always thought would ride into fire with me was a big letdown. No outstretched hand of love or understanding from her. We remained close because I just figured that she couldn't handle death. But as the years passed I watched her hold the hands of men she recently started dating while they lost loved ones. She said to me "I don't handle death well but I wanted to be there for him." I just thought "wow, so she does know how to be there for someone." Years passed again and I was there for her during surgeries, death of grandparents, etc. Years after that when a man who was once my stepdad and she knew I was still very close to died, she sent me a text message instead of calling and the text said "sorry to hear, let me know if you need anything", that was the last straw for me. She could have picked up the phone...she never did.
My other best friend just disappeared. We were both only children and had just had a conversation a week before my mother died about how we promised to be there for each other. It's so eerie that we just had this conversation a week before, but I guess she forgot because she disappeared for 14 years and contacted me earlier this year to apologize and say that she did not know how to handle a friend that lost her mother.
There are other examples like the two besties who made my grief all about them, one of which who called me when her father-in-law died to tell me that she was upset that her husbands' tears and snot were getting on the fur of her coat when he laid his head on her shoulder to cry.
I am still friends with all of these ladies because I forgive them, but we are definitely not besties. I completely understand that death is hard and not everyone knows how to deal with it. But please try. Don't be afraid to ask "how do you want me to be there for you?"
2. People can't stand to see you weak.
I have always been seen as this strong individual, so when I let my guard down and cried on the phone and openly shared about how I could not handle not having my mom in my life, my friend said "I can't handle you being this weak." The way she said it was callous, so I moved on. We are still very good friends, but I don't share my deep emotions with her.
3. People will tell you how long you're allowed to grieve.
Like normal, I got dressed every day, went to work and followed through on commitments. I was not rude or difficult, but I guess I was not my regular laugh at everything self and went home straight after work instead of doing happy hours. One day a co-worker said to me "It's been about a year, shouldn't you be done grieving?" Don't get me wrong, I understand when you want your friend to heal and you think it's time for them to start living again. But this was not that. This was a co-worker wanting me to laugh at their jokes and they couldn't understand that I needed more time to be able to laugh at mundane things. My advice to anyone who is grieving, take as long as you want. As long as you are not a danger to yourself or others, living life like normal and have not gone completely nuts, take as long as you need to grieve.
4. People will use your suffering as an opportunity to be unkind.
When someone has just been waiting to see you helpless, they will take any opportunity to stick it to you. From asking to help you for a fee, telling you that they have meant to tell you how they don't like your hairstyle, how you lost too much weight and anything they may have been waiting for the "right" moment to tell you. LOL! I always find these people hilarious.
5. The least likely people will offer friendship and support.
There were coworkers, neighbors, and others I barely knew who reached out to me with the kindest words or expressions of love. My neighbors cut the grass and left me kind notes. I never knew they cared. It was the oddest feeling to get a call from a gentleman at work that was never very friendly, but he wanted to share his story of loss and healing. I felt comfortable opening up to him as well. Funny thing is, we never spoke again and I barely remember his name, but that moment was one of the most important moments during that time. He was an angel. Regardless of who it is, please accept their kindness. Sometimes tragedy brings people together for the best reasons.
6. Some people will get it right.
My best example of support I received was from a friend who lived miles away from me in New York. She sat on the phone with me for hours every day. We would cook and eat dinner together, watch TV and most often we just sat in silence. She knew I did not want to be alone. I remember once sitting in silence on the phone with her for four hours. She did what she was capable of doing, just be there. I'm forever grateful.
7. Other people are also grieving the same loss.
My mom had a large family and lots of friends. When they wanted to talk about her or reminisce I couldn't hear it. I later realized that they were looking for the same thing I was looking for, a connection to her and someone who understood what they were feeling. I could not see past my own hurt to realize that others loved her and mourned her as well. Maybe sharing her memories would have been a comfort.
I truly understand when people say that only after we feel the pain of the loss of a loved one can we understand the pain of others. With any trauma, there is a lesson to be learned. Maybe that journey was a good one for me because it taught me how to love people during their most difficult moments. That was the lesson of a lifetime.
My mom use to make this easy custard pie. I did not have her exact recipe, but here is the best adaptation. It is just as delicious and still makes me think of her with each bite!
Adapted from www.justapinch.com