Slices of Life: Grief tutorial 2.0 — part 2

You may see me as a person smothered by grief, and I may see myself that way as well, but honesty can help break through barriers. It can help take the focus away from death and shed the light back on life. Truly, I think that’s all any of us wants.

Jill Pertler
Jill Pertler

“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” — Benjamin Franklin

"Sheer force is just one type of strength. There are other ways to be strong," writes Jill Pertler.

Ben was a smart guy, but I’d like to add one item to his list: grief. Death is nearly, almost always accompanied by grief; it is a third certainty in our world.

Last week I wrote advice for those grieving. Today the advice is for those helping another through a loss.

When you love someone who is grieving:

Please don’t avoid me. Don’t walk in the other direction when we both find ourselves on aisle five at the super store. If you see me, I see you, too, and I also see you hurriedly turning your cart to walk in the other direction. I know interacting with me can be scary because I am a reminder of what may very likely be you some day; it will be nearly all of us one day, because to love is to put oneself on the pathway to grief — and that thought is frightening. But to deny or avoid love is one of the only things I can think of that’s sadder than grief.


There are some things I wish you wouldn’t say. One of these is “I’m glad you seem to be doing so well.” I bet that one surprises you.

I know you mean this as a compliment and I know you truly want me to do well, but please know I’ve mastered the art of the pleasant face and basic conversation. Gone are the days of my bursting into a cascade of tears at the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean I’m not crying the whole way home. Don’t ever assume you know how I’m feeling, because (and I’m saying this with all the love I can muster) you can’t know. I hope you never know.

Instead of assumptions, say something like, “I’ve been thinking about you and hope you are doing well.” Or, “It’s good to see you. You look great.” You can even substitute the word “young” or “skinny” for great. (Grief doesn’t negate humor.) If you don’t know what to say, that’s OK. Silence can be golden; it often is.

Say my husband’s name. Those of us grieving long to hear our loved one’s name said out loud. We like to hear memories and fun anecdotes about the silly things they used to do. We like to remember the good times, and we love to know you do, too.

For the grieving, everything is now measured by before and after. Someone brings up a memory from 2018 and I think, “Yes, that was two years before.” My granddaughter will turn 4 this year and I think, “Yes, that will be two years after.” Someone posts their wedding anniversary on social media and I think, “That should have been us.” No date is just a date anymore, it’s a date that happened pre- or post-. I don’t believe this line of thinking will ever end, but I’m not sure. Grief has taught me not to be sure of anything.

Understand that many holidays and anniversaries are difficult for us in The Club. New Year’s Eve when you are supposed to kiss someone at midnight — hard. A birthday when you wake up alone in your bed — empty. Valentine’s Day when you realize no one will send you flowers or buy you a cheesy Valentine’s card at the last minute — dreaded.

Grief never ends. But neither does life. If I am still here, I may be grieving, but I am also living — and not necessarily in that order. Include me in activities. I may choose not to participate, but keep inviting me. It helps me to know I’m not forgotten or invisible. The invitation itself feels very welcome and very alive, and who knows, I just may be ready to step out and be the life of the party at some point.

Most of all, be yourself and be honest. You may see me as a person smothered by grief, and I may see myself that way as well, but honesty can help break through barriers. It can help take the focus away from death and shed the light back on life. Truly, I think that’s all any of us wants.


Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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