Friends and family that don’t support you can cause pain at the best of times. But when struggling with grief there’s not much resilience and an unsupportive person can be crushing.
Dealing with grief is incredibly demanding. Someone grieving hopes friends and family will be pillars of strength, encouraging, accepting of the grief and trusting that the person grieving is finding their own way through. But what happens when the person grieving leans on someone he or she thought would be a trusted ally only to discover no empathy? Instead, the one grieving is beaten down with hurtful exchanges. When the griever most needs a true friend, words of dismissal, judgment and disapproval cut deep. The support they were hoping to lean on crumbles – no pillar of strength, just useless rubble.
It’s easy for onlookers to stand in their own shoes, see someone struggling in grief and think they are doing it wrong. For that reason, many people fall short of being a real friend. The truth is that no one can really understand the depth of grief until confronted with a very impactful loss. Even the person grieving had no idea how to navigate their grief until they are in it.
No one experiences a relationship to the one who has died in the same way as the person grieving. Onlookers did not have the same relationship to the deceased. They are probably not facing the same financial stresses, loss of home, loss of lifestyle, loss of daily routine involving the one deceased. They are not the same in personality as the one grieving. How then can they fully understand another’s grief?
What most onlookers fail to understand is that grief does not need fixing. The person grieving is not looking for advice on how someone else would handle things. The journey through grief is a very personal and unique one and really only the person dealing with grief is the best one to find a path through it. It’s just that the griever hoped they wouldn’t have to walk that road alone.
When in the midst of grief the person really needs a buddy – someone pulling on their team – someone who will stand with them through thick and thin. They need a friend who believes in their heart that the one grieving is still a good person doing the best anyone could do in their circumstances. Unfortunately, less-than-supportive folks take on the role of judge, jury and executioner. They decide the griever is doing grief wrong, they sentence them to lots of correction, then in their onlooker’s fog of misunderstanding, they become angry the griever didn’t follow their advice or simply pull away from the relationship. They do not want to reach out in love and care for another. Their erroneous opinion is easier to offer than unconditional love.
If you are watching someone suffer grief, be a good friend. They need you. They are putting their trust in you. Accept where they are. Accept what they say about how it feels. Believe they are still the same good person they were before getting bulldozed by loss. Trust they are doing the best they can. Don’t be the person that adds more hurt to an already broken heart. Don’t leave them without support when they need it most.
If you are someone grieving and have turned to someone you thought would stand by you and have been bitterly disappointed, you are not alone. I too have felt the cold disapproval of a family member because I wouldn’t be pushed into doing things her way. As hard as this is, you have to let them go. It is another loss, and you will need to add that grief to the pile you already struggle with. But letting them go now, while painful, is better than subjecting yourself to their ongoing opinions and wounding words.
The loss of someone you thought was a trusted friend can be so crushing you may not want to risk trusting anyone else because the pain and anguish of more hurt and loss are just too much to bear. Nonetheless, keep pressing on in your search for support. There are fantastic supportive people who have learned the beautiful art of friendship. You may find them in surprising places. Hold on to them like treasures. Indeed, they are more precious than gold.