There Is No Timetable
How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 4
Grief is not necessarily linear. You can read the Wikipedia entry as easily as I can about the stages of grief, and even there you will find that “normal grief” doesn’t always progress in a certain order.
There are grief cycle theories all over the place, I’m sure. That’s not my area of expertise, so if that’s something you want to explore further on your own, I would encourage you to, but know that just because it can be explained in a book doesn’t mean that’s exactly how it will work itself out in the life of a real person.
Your friend might seem to have it together just fine in public. She’s not always walking around with mascara streaks and constantly beating her breast, so that must mean she’s fine, right? She may have just had moments or hours of intense grief in her personal time, and somehow, by the grace of God, managed to make herself presentable enough to go to church and not be a blubbering mess. Respect that—it’s a major accomplishment for her.
And if she doesn’t make it to church or playgroup or the moms’ group for a month or more, don’t freak out. It’s difficult to reenter life as you once knew it, feeling like a completely altered being. I remember wondering,
“How do I fit in with my single gal friends in their early twenties? I feel even less like them now than I did before.”
“Am I allowed to go into a group of acquaintances who are having a lighthearted conversation and just be a part of it like I used to be, or is that weird?”
“Am I betraying the memory of my child—am I letting her disappear—if I go to work today and have work-related conversations?”
(As a side note, my single gal friends in their early twenties have been some of the most remarkable supporters.)
For a couple months after losing Felicity, I was in perpetual motion when I was in public and even in private sometimes. There always seemed to be plans and people that kept life going. And though I was feeling extremely sad sometimes, the reality of our loss did not hit me for some time.
There may be a relative calm before the storm. At first you’re dealing with empty arms, your milk coming in then drying up, stitches healing, your dark line down the middle of your once-full belly disappearing—those are acute grief experiences. As time goes on, however, there are all kinds of realities that your friend will have to face. As the finality of the loss begins to sink in over time, grief can actually become more devastating than it was at the beginning. For me, that was sometime in mid-January, almost 4 months after Felicity’s death. Another friend from church who experienced a stillbirth 20+ years ago recalled to me that months 4-9 were just awful for her.
I’m not saying that this is the formula—months 4-9 will definitely be awful. I’m saying that you need to be in tune to and vigilant for your friend, even if a couple months have passed and she seems to be okay. Her private moments probably contain a lot of agony. And when the acute grieving experiences are past, chances are it’s just the beginning.
(Read other posts in this series.)
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