If you ever want to go set some shit on fire in the middle of the desert, I’m totally down, by the way.
It hadn’t even been a week since my friend had lost her boyfriend.
That’s too euphemistic. Died. He died. It had been a week since my friend’s boyfriend died.
I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t know what to say to her. A few days after he died, I opened up a message window on Facebook and stared at it blankly.
I can crank out 1,000 words on how I found my brand, but I couldn’t talk to my friend.
Horrible advice on grief from experts
I Googled what you’re supposed to say to a friend who’s mourning. How to talk to a friend who’s mourning. How to word Facebook messages to your friend when her boyfriend is dead and she’s the one who found him and he’s not even in the ground yet.
I found some truly terrible advice. I read five articles with heavily religious agendas. Others were written by grief counselors, but they provided generic tips and then tried to get people to book appointments. Don’t get me wrong: That makes sense, especially from a business perspective. And it makes sense that if someone can’t get by with generic tips, it may be time to seek professional help. Duh.
But what was I supposed to do?
My perspective on grief
I remember grieving and hating it when people offered, “Let me know if you need anything.”
I’m not gonna know that I need something until it’s 2 AM and I decide that maybe I want to drive to IHOP. In Tucson. Or Maine. And that’s when I’m going to call you and tell you I’m having a mental breakdown and I want company. But I won’t call. Because I’m not going to burden you.
I wasn’t going to offer that generic condolence.
I wanted someone to tell me, “Just meet her wherever she’s at emotionally and let her tell you what she needs, because you need to stop being afraid to talk to someone who’s grieving.”
But nobody said that.
They just said, “Acknowledge her loss. Tell her he’s with God now.”
How to Help Your Friend Mourn (When you’re a hot mess who’s bad at feelings)
I ended up saying, “I heard what happened, and I’m sorry. Let me know when the service is.” We talked a little bit. It didn’t feel like I’d done much. It felt empty.
I caught up with her at the bar a couple days later. We were outside and there were people yelling. Her friends had wandered off somewhere else so I got to talk to her.
I told her I would lose my shit if I were in her position. I told her I admired her for putting on real clothes and showing her face in public. “I would be somewhere in the middle of the desert setting shit on fire.”
She said that her friends had pretty much forced her to get out of her house. She said that she admired that she was wearing real clothes, too, and wasn’t sure how she was doing it, either. She said everything felt like it was either falling apart or a really long dream. She said she felt a mix of sadness, emptiness, and shock.
I told her I don’t know how to help someone grieve. I told her I’m not good at grief and emotions and empathy.
“But if you ever want to go set some shit on fire, I’m totally down.”
She took me up on that offer yesterday. Kind of.
We spent the entire afternoon (and continued late into the night) together. We drove around aimlessly listening to music. We got ice cream. She told me she was the one that found his body. She hadn’t been able to tell people, because not everybody can hear something like that.
We went to her boyfriend’s favorite place in the city to watch the sunset. We hopped on the swing set at the park. She opened up about some of the bad parts of her relationship. We glorify the dead, but their relationship wasn’t always that glorious.
We got dinner at a place she’d never been before. She told me that she still doesn’t feel like it’s real. “He was gone for long periods of time, and there was a possibility he would’ve been leaving again soon anyways, so it just feels like he’s off on a trip right now.”
We sat in my car and talked and listened to music and looked at pictures of him and her and her friends from her hometown and a pretty church she photographed in San Antonio. We listened to all his favorite songs and all her favorite songs. We listened to songs he’d helped write and performed with his band when he was still alive.
We listened to a band that she had been avoiding since he’d died because she didn’t know how it was going to affect her.
If you want real advice on how to help your grieving friend, here’s my take:
Just fucking listen.
They need someone who will listen.
Because when someone is grieving, they’re going to get enough generic advice. They’re going to have enough people sending condolences and bringing over casseroles and saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”
They’ll tell you how you can help. They’ll tell you if they want to just have happy memories or if they want to work through the bad parts too. They’ll tell you if they want to go to IHOP in Tucson (or Maine) in the middle of the night. They’ll tell you if they just want to be left the hell alone, for that matter.
Listen to your friend. Talk to your friend.
And then follow through. That’s what friends do.