Grief at a distance

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?

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8 thoughts on “Grief at a distance

  1. sarah says:

    Ana

    This is a powerful look at a difficult emotion.

    Grief at a distance is a big challenge for sure. I’ve experienced a bit from a distance with friends in recent years. My biggest way to help is typically through cards, letters, phone calls. Perhaps the best is probably just sitting and listening, not trying to solve or make it go away because we need to feel it. Grief is hard and uncomfortable. Seeing and hearing someone cry is rough and gut wrenching. It is an essential piece of the process. For me I need to talk a lot, for others they can’t discuss it. Grieving takes many forms.
    Sometimes there just isn’t a way to be physically with a friend as they face it. It is rough but it’s life.

    Like

  2. hafortman says:

    It’s so hard when it’s a friend going through grief Amd they’re a distance away. Speaking from experience, as you know I just lost my mom, but those little things… messages online, a card (be it a physical or eCard) that show you care and are there for said friend, those are the things *I* remember most. They meant the world to me. Even if it was just reading the letters on the screen as I talked about Mom.

    *Hugs* aren’t just 6 characters thrown together to make a word or “action”, they are an electronic representation of a physical activity that comes from the heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. minellesbreath says:

    I think that it’s maybe as simple as listening to them minutes at a time.
    Sometimes we push grief away and other times we are knocked sideways by that same grief. Even when the person we grieve is trapped between life and death.

    Like

  4. awesomesub says:

    Hi Ana, what you write about grief is true. I don’t believe that I am good at dealing with grief, but I don’t run away either. I have always experienced these times as something when friends and family become closer in a way. And then there are moments when the tiny acts are maybe all we have to keep going and doing these for others can mean such a lot.
    But grief at a distance? Since I need and use a lot of physical contact, grief at a distance is even worse. It is like not being able to say good bye. I had that with one of my aunts a few years ago when we simply couldn’t go there (she was a Graciela-type of woman, btw. I have always admired her). It is like a story that will not come to a good conclusion. So, grieving at a distance and coming to terms has only been possible in a sort of abstract way. Comforting those left behind is so difficult then, talking and crying on the phone was what worked best, but without holding each other, it is all incomplete.

    hugs

    Nina

    Like

  5. JoanneBest says:

    When my Mom died unexpectedly and without a bit of warning I lost my best friend as well as a Mother. It was a few months later that I discovered your blog Ana, and the love and acceptance I felt from you and everyone here helped me more than anyone I knew in “real life”.
    I’m still not back to myself completely, some days
    are better than others , but in all honesty, “grief at a distance” and concern from people I never met in person helps me more than anyone I know including close family.
    I can say with surety that you and your amazing group of friends are healing that huge hole in my heart more and much better than any therapist I could talk to. #beentheredonethat 😀
    I love you Dearest Ana, and I love each and every one of you miscreants ❤ Thank you, more than you can know. ❤ xox

    Like

  6. catrouble says:

    Lovely post Ana!

    It is hard to reach out across the miles to friends and/or family to help deal with their grief. Phone calls, quick notes, ecards, emails, texts and sometimes a quick giggle gift or potted plant or bouquet of flowers…just depends on who it is and what touches them more. It is easy to withdraw in your grief and easier to withdraw from long distance relationships than from those who just show up at your front door but you can make it harder for someone to withdraw by being persistent and thick skinned.

    Hugs and Blessings…
    Cat

    Like

  7. Anastasia Vitsky says:

    Thank you so much, everyone. ❤ You make some really great points. Grief is hard! It is what we need to do, but it's still hard.

    Cat, sometimes it is important to be thick-skinned. People in pain are not always able to be kind.

    Joanne, I am so glad that you found comfort and support in our crazy little band. ❤

    Bskies, isn't that the truth? I remember the small things, always.

    Nina, I am a fan of making our own rituals and traditions etc. for coming to terms with grief. Distance is becoming more and more common, and the old ways of grieving are hard to do when across the world.

    Minelle, the one-time grieving of loss is hard, but so is the perpetual potential loss of uncertainty. Hugs.

    Heather…just…thank you. ❤

    Sarah, I think sometimes the most powerful thing is simply to say okay you are sad and I will be here. So few people can actually do that. Thank you for the reminder.

    Like

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