When my glass cutting board hit the floor, it shattered against the tile. Tiny, sharp cubes spread near — piled around my feet — and flew far — some 12 feet away. (Thank goodness for tempered glass, or I’d have been sweeping up even more shards.) Portions clumped together, resembling a crackled fraction of the item that once protected surfaces and survived countless kitchen close calls over the last two decades. Not one bit of it was salvageable.
When my husband died, grief shattered my world into nearly as many tiny fragments of my former life. It was as if someone scored a crackled fraction pattern over me and then dropped me onto tile. The resulting impact sent shards of myself flying — some landing in a crumpled heap at my feet and others tumbling far, far, far beyond view. I didn’t feel salvageable.
I could have attempted a Humpty-Dumpty–patch job with parts of the cutting board. With scads of time, protective gloves, and the right adhesive, I might have reassembled a nearly complete rectangle of the same overall shape. Its length, width, and depth might have been close to the original version of itself.
But it would never, ever be good as new again. Never would it safely bear up under the burdens of chopping, slicing, or dicing with a blade of any dimension. Never would its once-impervious surface be easily cleaned for hygienic meal preparation.
Now, I’m not saying we should sweep up the pieces of mourners’ lives, hand them over with a dustpan, and say, “Put it together or throw it out.” Grief doesn’t work that way. (And we all know how well Humpty-Dumpty turned out.)
Early in grieving, mourners need to be told it’s okay that they feel shattered. Being told how “strong” they are or that they can “handle” everything might seem helpful — but in most cases it’s not helpful. Often, well-intended comments about your bereaved friends’ strength, resiliency, or abilities will come across to your grieving friend as poorly as these:
- So what if your world has fallen apart?
- People die every day, so why are you having such a hard time with your loss?
- You’ll just have to learn to live without your loved one.
- Better you than me.
- You don’t need (or deserve) my help.
Ouch. No one wants to wound their mourning friends with such sharp-edged apathy, so avoid saying those kinds of things. Please.
In time, your friends’ grief will no longer be as overwhelming and raw as in early months and years. That doesn’t mean their grief will go away (there’s no magic Humpty-Dumpty–patch for that, remember) but they will adapt — eventually. (Though I’ve learned to function without my husband, and though much of my life now is great, there are times I still feel fractured seven years later.)
You can help grieving friends in the meantime by picking up some pieces for them:
- Bring meals or easily prepared snacks, invite them to dinner, or take them with you to get groceries.
- Help with household tasks or chores.
- Call, write, text, phone, and visit to show your awareness long, long, long (weeks and months and years) after the funeral.
- Listen. Share and hear stories about their loved ones.
You can’t fix your friends’ grief. You can’t put them back together. But you can be there to handle their broken, shattered hearts with care, attention, and gentle understanding.