Why Grief Can Be Divisive
We lost one of our 4paw doggies this week. Kiki became critically ill without warning, and in spite of aggressive therapy, we lost her. You're never ready for one of these things, especially since we lost another dog last year. Maybe we thought we should be done for a while. We've lost parents, friends, colleagues...it's been quite a string of losses, as I'm sure a few readers have experienced. You get to that point in life, with the passage of a few birthdays.
One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a nurse and a human being is that grief doesn't necessarily become the glue to hold people together. Grief can cause friction, heartache, and divisive behavior. Like snowflakes, no two people grieve alike. Grief is highly individual as well as painful, and conflict can occur. As nurses, we learn a few skills to make grief and loss less difficult, even when it's our own inner circle. People who need to be alone to grieve can be driven nuts by those who want to talk through their emotions. The "talker" may need to find a close friend who can help during intensely lonely times, even if it's a brief text or two.
Learning what to say is as important as what not to say. Anyone who owns and loves an animal knows it's important not to say "well, she was just a dog", as dog-lovers feel that they have lost a member of their family. Saying that the loved one is in a "better place" is making religious assumptions that should probably be left unsaid, unless you know the griever quite well. Same with the phrase "God must have wanted to take her", although being reminded by a family member that the Pope said "all dogs go to Heaven" did bring a smile.
What you can do for the grieving person is to offer a simple "I'm sorry", and let them know you will be there. If they seem to be having difficulty with small tasks, grab their daily espresso and drop it off for a day or two, or pick up their mail. If you know one of the family members needs to have alone time, offer to take the others for a quiet meal at the mall, or dessert. Take them OUT for a chat, so they can discuss what they miss most or how they're feeling without guilt or infringing on someone else's quiet time. Do not package up dog toys or bowls or belongings without express permission, as people can get very touchy about these items.
People have fought for years over the fact one family member threw out the last paper cup a spouse drank out of without asking anyone's permission. Remember, handling grief is like snowflakes. No two people are alike. Be available. Be helpful with small tasks. Be genuinely sorry.
And don't touch anything.