Coping with and Reacting to Someone Else’s Grief

I can’t tell you the amount of cards I got after my Mum died, I can’t tell you who they’re from or what they said – but I can tell you that a two weeks after my Mum died, my friends persuaded me to go out for St Patrick’s Day. I had such a great time – even though I was designated driver and it was about 2 degrees outside. My friends took me out and had fun with me because it mattered to be able to be myself despite of the shite that had just happened. Mum’s funeral was five days after that night out which is why I didn’t drink, and knowing that the next time I’d be seeing my friends was on my Mum’s funeral was a bit rubbish, but didn’t dampen the night.

2-4-1 Cocktails to compliment your sadness, ladies?
(That’s me in the middle)

The best thing that anyone could have done for me in the couple of months after my Mum died was being present and willing to help/listen. I’m not referring to “If there’s anything I can do to help” messages because honestly, when you’re emotionally exhausted from grieving the person’s death, and mentally exhausted from arranging death certificates, funerals, the will and probate, the last thing you want to do is contact someone to do something because it feels like you will be burdening them. I so appreciated when someone would say “I’ll do that for you, I’ll sort that out” because it meant there was one less thing to deal with! My brother and his girlfriend came down to Dorset to help me clear out Mum’s belongings. I’ve said before, my Mum had LOADS of stuff. We filled twenty five giant bin liners with her clothes. Twenty five! I couldn’t have done that all by myself. That weekend, they also took Sam and I out for dinner and paid for it. That helped. My Mum’s friend came over at one point and helped me move some furniture. She also just did the washing up that was in the sink. That helped. My whole grieving process has been in front of Sam, he has witnessed me feeling the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, and he has allowed me time to cry and shout and be annoyed or alone. That helped, and does still help.

I know that the “If there’s anything I can do” messages and cards are said with the best of intentions and are very heartfelt because these people care about you, but in reality it’s hard to execute when adult life gets in the way. When my friend’s (Lauren, mentioned here) Mum passed away, I took her a bunch of flowers, a bar of chocolate, and some of those sticky under eye masks that reduce puffiness in your eyes – because lord knows she would’ve been crying like mad. She wasn’t home when I went round, so I just left them on the floor outside her front door. She messaged me when she got home and said she was so touched. A little while later, it was her birthday. She was a single Mum at the time and unfortunately could no longer rely on her Mum to look after her little boy. Sam and I picked him up from the childminders and took him to soft play. Lauren had an afternoon off of work for her birthday and she went and got her nails done because she didn’t have to worry about who was looking after her child.

The point I’m making is that grief never goes away, and there is always something you can do to help if you’re not the one experiencing it. You know your friend/relative/loved one well enough to know what they might be struggling with and specifically what it is that they might need help with. Mow their lawn, help with their shopping, clean their car, invite them over for dinner, send them a thoughtful gift like a book or a craft kit that might take their mind off of stressful tasks for a little while.

The nicest and most helpful thing that Sam and I did which gave ourselves some time away from all those stresses after my Mum had died was have a spa day…which was kind of a gift from my Mum. Before my Mum got poorly, she’d purchased a spa day treatment for two (her and me obvs). When we got around to going to the spa, which was in May after she’d had her chemo, the spa had a policy on not being able to deliver treatments to patients who had been on chemotherapy recently. This was really annoying because I made it abundantly clear when I was booking it that Mum was going through treatment but that she’d be finished by the time of our booking, and I got told it was fine. Clearly it wasn’t. Anyway, we got our time limit on the voucher extended by another 18 months, and got an upgrade on our treatments for the next time we came to use it. Sue had to go and die before her and I could use it, so Sam and I went to the spa about a month after Mum’s funeral instead. We both had a facial and a massage, had dinner, recreated our first date by going to the same bar, stayed at a hotel over night, and we got a free bottle of prosecco to have as well. All the stress, uncertainty and sadness around Mum’s death dissolved for 36 hours. Thanks, Mum!

If you want to speak to your friend or relative or loved one about whoever they lost, then do it. I know there is the worry of making it worse or upsetting them, but the chances are they’re probably already thinking about them already…so you might as well say their name and remember them.

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