Wondering what to say and do when someone you love loses someone they love? We polled the men and women who've sat down at our tables to find out the best and worst things people said or did in the immediate aftermath of loss, and long after. We compiled the resulting tips into a downloadable guide, to help you be the friend you want to be (or at the very least, to avoid putting your foot in your mouth).
Link to download: thedinnerparty.org/s/TheDinnerParty_BeingThere.pdf
In a hurry? Remember ye this:
- Beware The Pity Face. Treating someone who’s just undergone a major loss “normally” may seem counterintuitive. After all, it’s better to acknowledge a friend’s loss than to carry on as though nothing happened, right? Right. But losing someone we love is also deeply unmooring. We crave some semblance of control, and long to fix things, knowing full well that the real thing we want to fix is beyond our reach. We keep ourselves busy for fear of what we’ll be left with when we’re left alone. Despite the fact that everything feels different, we long for our old selves, and seek out reassurance that we haven’t lost everything we had the day before.
- Don’t wait for someone to tell you how you can help: Offer something specific. Or just do it. However well-intentioned, bland offerings of help rarely work. Few of us like asking for help, and in the immediate aftermath of a loss, we struggle to name what we need. Instead, be as specific as possible with what you can offer, whether that’s running out for toilet paper or groceries, babysitting or mowing the lawn, or ordering a food delivery service.
- Don’t tip-toe, don’t compare, and don’t whitewash. Do listen. Most of our common platitudes are born out of good intentions. We want somehow to lessen the blow, or to find a silver lining, or to fix the unfixable. We gloss over pain and seek reassurance that everything is okay, even if those reassurances are cloaked in silence and concealment. Rather than run away from the discomfort, try sitting with it, and don’t be afraid to ask a question, even if you might be afraid to hear the answer.
- Tell me about… Often, one of the best things we can do for each other is to make space to remember those who now live only in memory, by asking questions about those who’ve died.
- Stick around. While our experiences change over time, there’s no such thing as going back, or “moving on” or “getting over it” – at least not in the traditional sense. Two, six, and sixteen years out, we no longer identify as “grieving,” and resist what feels like an open declaration that something’s wrong. Yet we remain no less colored by the experience.
Know someone who might want a seat? Send 'em an email with a link to this site, and let them be the judge.