In Lieu of Loneliness
Accompanying each other through grief
Young adulthood is often a season full of firsts: first move out of student housing; first time buying a car; first real dining room table; first full-time paycheck; first health insurance apart from parents’.
It is also a season of celebrations, as nearly every other weekend, April to September, is the wedding of a childhood, college or graduate school friend. There are passed-the-Bar-exam parties, medical school coat ceremonies, first promotions, and Saturdays spent helping friends move and celebrate their first home. There is a spattering of baby showers and adoption parties as friends begin to start families of their own.
Amid the excitement and right-of-passage firsts, young adulthood is also a season of embracing the already-but-not-yet: there’s enough in the paycheck to cover the rent, but not enough to fully furnish the condo; you won’t get a promotion without more education, but just can’t afford more student loans; your childhood bedroom is now redecorated for your sister’s kids and you get booted to the sleeper sofa for holidays since you’re the single one; you can pay all your bills, but are still filled with kid-on-Christmas-morning glee when someone else pays for a dinner you could never afford.
Perhaps the hardest adjustment to make during this season of life is that many of us are living somewhere for the first time without an automatic community — at college, grad school or internships. We have friends all over the globe, yet some of the people who know us best now see us the least. For some of us, work schedules barely allow any social time, so basically the only people we know are colleagues, the receptionist at the gym, or the doorman in our building. The independence of moving for employment, higher education or significant other is often coupled with leaving friends and family and starting over.
While feeling the loss of communities we once relied on may happen on any given day, it is even more powerful when we get news from home that grandmother is in the ICU, or father was diagnosed with cancer, or mother lost her job, or our best friend was critically injured in a car wreck. The distance may feel even greater after a loved one dies or there is a significant life change, and nobody who knows you best is close enough to talk to in person.
During periods of crisis and grief, the connectional gifts of technology are vital for supporting each other and ourselves. For instance, being able to Skype or FaceTime with the person who knows you best is significantly helpful when you have just learned of a family death or serious illness. It’s certainly not the same as meeting up after work, but it bridges the miles and brings great comfort. And, it’s often just as helpful for the friend accompanying you through grief to still be connected when they feel a million miles away and helpless.
If you are grieving a loss or major life event and friends and family no longer live nearby, utilize technology to keep close. Remember that grief is a journey, and give yourself freedom to be and feel whatever you feel at any given time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there are resources available to support you (see sidebar). Be sure to share the information with your medical doctor and counselor if you regularly see either, or consider seeking professional help as you grieve, as emotional and physical symptoms are very common. Seek information from hospitals, counseling centers and faith communities in your city as you determine if you’d rather attend a support group or go to counseling alone. Be patient with yourself and allow others to care for you, and be specific in what you need from your support network. Typically we all want to help, but also want to respect privacy, so telling others what we need is most helpful for all involved.
Caring for each other in this unique season of life is necessary and important. For many it is their first time experiencing a major loss or life change. Here are suggestions of ways to be community and be the church during grief and loss, even on a tight budget from zip codes apart. (Thanks, modern technology!)
- Can’t afford a flight for the funeral? Sign up for a charity event near you and participate in memory of your friend’s loved one.
- Purchase an online gift card from Restaurants.com to their favorite local restaurant and send with a “Wish we lived close enough for me to buy you dinner” note.
- Send flowers, Edible Arrangements or cookies to brighten their home or office.
- Text or email when you know they are awaiting test results or dealing with lots of funeral details, or just to say you’re thinking of them.
- Start a Caring Bridge site and help update it as their loved one recovers or goes through treatments.
- Not a card sender? (Or always pick out fabulous cards, but just can’t seem to get to the post office?) Send a private Facebook or email message letting them know you’re thinking of them. If you knew their loved one, include what their loved one meant to you. Even if they can’t read them all right away, these are comforting to read at 3 a.m. or when the chaos of funeral planning is over.
- Send a gift or donation as a group. For instance, contact friends from your sorority or fraternity and all pitch in to donate a larger amount to your friend’s charity of choice in honor or memory of their loved one. GreaterGood.org is a great resource.
- Remember milestones, holidays and anniversaries. It’s important to acknowledge these dates, especially all the firsts during the first year after a loved one’s death. If you aren’t close enough to see your friend, send an email on their loved one’s birthday or a text on Thanksgiving as a way to show you remember.
- Ask what practical things they need. Perhaps they need help paying for all the trips back and forth during an illness or death. If so, send an email to your group of friends seeing if anyone has frequent flyer miles they’d be willing to transfer. Maybe they need someone to keep their newborn while they take their parent to chemo. Offer to pay for a few hours of babysitting if you aren’t close enough to offer to keep their child. Or, they may simply need for someone to clean their house. If cleaning bathrooms isn’t your thing, get a gift card for a cleaning service. Living Social and Groupon have great deals for various services that are searchable by city.
- Offer tickets to a concert, play, movie or sporting event, as a way to do something nice but also restore some sense of “normal” during the grief process.