A while ago, I had a series called Tuesdays with Ana that addressed many life questions.
Today, I’d like to talk about grief. Specifically, when someone we care about is grieving and we are too far away to help.
Over the past year, the people I care about have encountered a staggering amount of losses.
The saddest and most profound of these losses, in my opinion, is the loss of a parent. Mother. (Loss of a child is something altogether different that I won’t address today.)
No matter how complicated the situation, no matter how strong the conflict, and no matter how much hate is in the love-hate relationship of a mother and a child, the loss of our mother is the single greatest loss most of us will face in our lifetime. Particularly if the death is unexpected, at a young age, or at a great distance.
A friend of mine had just begun her first professorship and was racing against the tenure clock. Her mother died without any warning. Trapped in a competitive, cutthroat environment, she did not travel halfway across the world to be with her family. Her husband and children did not, either.
Another friend had barely turned fifteen when she lost her mother after a long and painful chronic illness. Fewer than ten years later, she lost her father as well. Years later, these events ripple through her everyday life. When her husband is late coming home, is he late or did something happen?
Then there are friends of the online variety. Maybe we have never met, but you have been part of my life for months. Years. In some cases, decades. I found a little group of friends almost fifteen years ago online, and I’ve gotten to meet most of them while traveling the world. When losses come, the distance spreads like an unforgiving barrier.
Grief confounds most of us because it renders us helpless. When the grief is not ours but of a friend, particularly a friend who is too far away to hug and care for, how can we help?
I’ve never been afraid of grief. Grief is much less painful than the contortions we put ourselves through while we try to avoid experiencing grief. When we allow ourselves to process the loss, however, we come out stronger than before. Sadder, yes. But more in tune with what it means to be human.
Grief in person, I get. That’s what casseroles, baked goods, running errands, baby-sitting, and small thoughtful gifts are for. When someone lives near me and is grieving, it’s the tiny acts that help. I can’t lift a burden from someone’s shoulders, but I can place hot nutritious food in front of her and make sure she has clean clothes to wear.
Grief at a distance? Much harder. We can send gifts. Send cards. Make phone calls. Maybe even video chat. But we can’t hug, or touch, or do something tangible.
When someone you love is going through grief and is too far away to meet in person, what do you do? How do you reach out?