To The Friend Of The Griever: What I’ve Learned About Holding Space When Your Loved One’s World Falls Apart
365 days ago, on July 15th 2017, the world lost a remarkable man, a gentle giant, my best friend’s husband: Justin Allis.
This past year has been full of heartache and devastation for my dear Stevie and has been blessed with joy and abundance for me. Navigating our friendship under these circumstance has not been easy, but truthfully, I have never experienced such genuine friendship.
Thanks to Stevie’s willingness to guide me, I have become a better friend. Here is what my warrior widow bestie has taught me about how to show up when shit hits the fan:
1. It’s okay to not know what to say, but say something anyway.
Watching the person you love experience unimaginable pain feels utterly hopeless. I wish there were the “right words” to say to lighten the burden of acute grief, but there are no such words.
I’ve learned that when I’m at a loss of what to say, I can say exactly that: “I don’t know what to say.”
I remind Stevie how much I love her, that I see her pain and I’m not going anywhere.
No matter how much I want to, I can’t fix it and neither can you. The truth is, we also can’t “make it worse,” so pick up the phone or send a message, but don’t stay silent!
2. Take Initiative
Grief is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Expecting someone who is grieving to have the energy and the mental clarity to ask for what they need is unrealistic. Take on the burden of decision making the best you can.
In the wake of Justin’s unexpected death, Stevie’s tribe flew in and started doing — I saw people step up to cook, clean, walk her dogs, care for her yard, and hold her close.
After a big loss, people often say “let me know if you need anything.” We want to give them space and don’t know what is truly helpful and what might be annoying but I’ve learned it’s better to take your best guess and do something than to sit idly by.
3. Stay Humble
I have no idea what I’m doing and Stevie knows that. I have said and done things that are unhelpful even though I have the best of intentions. Thankfully I have a friend who is courageous enough to tell me when I miss the mark.
Take direction. You are holding their hand, but they are drive the ship. Go where you’re called and don’t take it personally if you are corrected.
It’s not about you.
4. Give her permission to process however, whenever and for however long she needs.
Everyone grieves differently. What you might want if the tables were turned may not be what your friend needs.
Let go of expectations and make endless room for this new third wheel in your relationship: grief.
There is no timeline for healing and it is not linear. Your relationship is forever changed.
Privately grieve the loss of the friendship you once had. Use outside resources to process your own feelings about this new heavy presence and remember: no matter how uncomfortable you are, your friend is even more uncomfortable so bear your share with grace.
5. Invite her in, without expectation.
Life keeps on moving, even after the greatest loss. Weeks after Stevie had lost her husband and her rainbow baby, I announced I was pregnant. I was also engaged to be married on the 3 month anniversary of his passing.
Of course I wanted to Stevie to be a part of these big life moments, but only she could decide if and how she could participate.
I expected nothing. I chose to celebrate my blessings knowing that she may or may not be able to join me. Lucky for me, she chose to join me (cuz she’s effing awesome!).
We both made room — she for my joy and me for her grief. Our opposing realities can, and do, coexist.
Thank you Stevie, for being my forever soul mate sister, for showing me what love means, and for being an example of walking through tragedy with grace and grit. I love you!
Follow her inspirational journey on Instagram @stevieallis