Yesterday I shared what I consider to be a universal truth when it comes to grief. “Time does not heal all wounds.” This is based on my own experience and that of countless others with whom I have shared my grief and heard theirs.

Another principle I have come to identify is that the presence of just one other person who can hear your story and stand by you (literally and figuratively) can help us heal. And I don’t mean once: one holiday, one meal, one message, one card of sympathy. By “stand by you” I am referring to repeated presence, a willingness of someone un-shattered to show up again and again, not to fix you, but just to be with you. One special friend, relative, colleague or stranger even who may have a similar loss, can make the journey of healing less desolate.

When my Daughter Alexis died I was 27. We were all so young. Not all of our young friends could stand by us over the long haul. It was as if me burying a child could be contagious.

As is often the case, when there is a tragedy the love and energy comes swirling around the environment. Food and flowers start showing up. The phone starts ringing like crazy and there are deliveries of all kinds. There is some type of funeral and/or burial ceremony to be planned. There are travel arrangements to be made. Everyone seems to be present and ready to “help.”

Maybe there is strength in numbers. When supporting a person in grief, doing it in groups while powerful, is much less intimate than one person standing by. But individual presence is exactly what is needed when the flurry of rituals around burial comes to an end. Because it gets quiet. And that is one of the loneliest times after losing someone. The reality that your life will go on and your circles of friends and family are going on with theirs.

”Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear you” is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. For me personally, it captures not only day to day life in a general context (parenting, relationships, habits) but also the state of my heart when it was broken. When the dust settled, support became sparse. The quiet was deafening. I had never felt so utterly alone.

But I also learned about Grace. There were a handful of people, maybe just two or three, who continued to show up. In large ways and small, they didn’t say much, they just kept walking the path with me. Messages, cards, invitations to do things, kept coming. They didn’t need me to validate their support, or let them off the hook at any point by being fine. They were just willing to stand by. This Grace is one of the most powerful components of healing from loss.

For now, let’s go back to grief principles: Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but the undemanding presence of continuous love that arises when someone close to us has the courage to repeatedly show up, and know there are no words to say, can be the oxygen that keeps a broken heart beating.

When in doubt, show your loved one you are not afraid to stand with them. It is okay to say “I don’t know what to say but I am here.” It is okay to feel helpless when your loved one’s loss can’t be ameliorated. But you can help. Stick around. Let your actions of support, acceptance and love speak so loudly that words are secondary anyway.


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