Earlier this year, and after several years of treatment, my beautiful mum passed away. The five weeks leading up to her death were equal parts sacred and brutal on my body, mind and soul as days were consumed with travel and care for her, emotional despair, physical exhaustion and juggling a young family. During these five weeks of ‘action’, I was able to still communicate with my networks. I sent texts to family and friends asking for specific assistance, especially as I was away from home and needed my daughters to be held tight at this time. Everyone was wonderful and I felt able to be deeply present to my mum, knowing my girls were being loved and cared for.
But then mum died, and between the sheer physical exhaustion of the previous weeks and the emotional devastation of such a loss, I was no longer able to reach out to ask for assistance. I became an emotional zombie, unaware of what I needed, let alone how or who to ask for it. And this, I have discovered is a very common experience.
What I learnt first-hand during this time, is that in grief, your brain switches off (or at least mine did) as you are thrown forcefully into working with the emotional and physical pain of losing a loved one. This means that often the person grieving truly has no clue what they need in those early days, let alone how to get it. These are executive functions which simply drop away amidst the shock, dissociation and pain of the present, particularly in those early weeks.
And so, in the days and weeks following my mum’s death, I began to feel sick to my stomach when I received another text signing off “let me know if I can do anything”. A potential kindness became a gnawing burden. While I’m sure no-one ever intends for this to be its impact, for me, and others I have spoken to, this has been the case. Asking someone this question when they are in such a vulnerable state can in fact not only be futile, but may even compound any sense of anxiety they may have, as they feel like they ‘should’ know, adding another weight to their already stooping shoulders.
If your offer of help is genuine, rather than asking them to tell you what they need at this time, state what you can do, ask them if that is ok, or just do it. Actions speak so much louder than words.
Some of the greatest gifts I was given, were from those who simply ‘adulted’ – knew, or could take a good guess at what the heck it looked like to be a mum with two young kids, who was caring for her terminally ill mother, or fumbling through the weeks after her death. They thought about what I needed and simply acted. A friend left a beautiful healthy meal on the doorstep, with no fuss. Another friend would ring a little before school pick up and simply let me know she would get my kids from school. Another messaged that she would take my daughter to dance class. In each of these situations all I had to say was “ok” or “thank you” … and honestly, that was all I could manage at that point. These were the differences that made all the difference in my daily life.
It is very important that we don’t allow “let me know if I can help” to become a throwaway tag line, a sort of grief version of “Yours sincerely”, particularly if you have or have had a very close connection with your friend. Likewise, don’t allow it to become a box that can be ticked off of your mental checklist – “reached out and offered support – check”. If you aren’t able or willing to help, or simply don’t know what to say or do, that is totally okay too, just steer clear of rendering this statement into a platitude. The energy of your intention (or lack of) always flows through.
These days we love to wonder how we can reinstate the days of “the village” being there for us. In these moments of crisis and despair, it is our chance to put the value of the village into action – move in tight around the one in crisis and bring kindness and care to them – not because they ask for it, but because humanity calls it forth in us. Gather My Crew can be such an invaluable tool in making this happen and I would encourage friends and loved ones who wish to support someone in their life to take charge of a Gather My Crew Network on their behalf.
Copyright Sasha Moss – From the Feminine 2018