Written by Oakley Weddle
Human Good Series: What Is Grief, Anyway?
There is no correct way to grieve. The five steps should not be a template for your processing. Grief isn't linear, isn't fashioned by another person, or predictable in any way. Everyone processes differently, and in times of great tragedy, all empathy should be poured into that mourner.
Throughout the process of grieving my brother Peyton, I examined how people mourn and how people comfort others during trauma. It's not something we talk about a lot. However, there are right and wrong things to say to someone during loss.
For Example: "I completely understand what you are going through. My dog passed away last year, and I was a wreck."
Two things...You are automatically making it about you at that moment, AND you are insinuating that losing a pet is the same as losing a family member. Don't get me wrong, I love animals most likely more than the next guy, but losing a human being unexpectedly is much MUCH different. Read the room.
Another Example: "Don't cry. Be strong."
I despise the phrase, "be strong" while mourning. It is the opposite of what somebody wants to do after a family member dies. Being strong and not crying has to be a choice you make on your own and not made by somebody else. You can't let yourself be controlled by someone else's prejudgements of you or your family dynamics. Additionally, if you keep your feelings bottled up, the experience will scar you far worse in the long run. Feel as you want to feel, and if you are a comforter, don't force someone to find reality. The best people that comforted me had no words to say. They just let me sob at their knee or held me while I cried. The empathy shown to me during those moments meant the most to me and gave me the strength to wake up the next morning.
Not being "STRONG" isn't a sign of weakness. It's the opposite. Displaying your emotions and sharing yourself with others is the strongest thing a griever can do.
Another example: "What can I do to help? I can do anything!!"
When something happens to a loved one, all you want to do is make them feel better. As an outsider of a tragedy, you sometimes don't know what to say. But let me tell you, sometimes, nothing will make it better. You may not be the person who makes them smile. As a comforter, you have to learn to put your ego aside and do everything for the griever's benefit and not your own, even if that means doing the hard work that has to be done.
On the day my brother died, the people who made the most significant impact on us were not the people talking to us all day. It was the person doing our laundry. It was the people who brought us food. It was the person who gave our dogs their lunch and dinner. And while I am eternally grateful for the people who helped me in those days emotionally, I am even more indebted to the friends who showed up and did what we couldn't physically do - be alone. Next time you have a loved one in grief, don't expect a conversation from them. Consider skipping the line of mourners and do something no one else would do. Don't worry, they'll notice. We noticed.
Last Example: "How are you doing today?" or "Are you okay?"
This one is the most complex. Comforters are all so well-intentioned and want to know how you are doing genuinely. However, as a griever, this is the last thing you want to be asked as you've already been fifty times that day. When someone asks, "are you okay?" The answer is always "No" while grieving. Nonetheless, grievers won't tell you that. They'll sometimes tell you a fake reply like, "I'm making it" or "I'm better today."
In times of grief, we lie to the comforters in our life because it's easier to move on with the world that way. However, after a while, giving back to the mourners becomes exhausting, and telling people that you're okay for their benefit is one of the many awful things that come along with grief.
And while there are many more examples, those are just a few to scratch the surface on how and what you should say to someone in grief.
I understand that losing my brother has given me a fantastic tool. I now look at life through different lenses of those who have not lost someone tragically. I now realize that life is too short for a lot of things. It's now harder for me to cry or get emotional as the death of my Peyton is the hardest thing I've ever been through, and nothing can come anywhere close. I realize that I can now inspire others and comfort others during tragic times as well. I'll always know what to say because of all the wrong and right things people said to me. I realize that I am bursting with empathy and a perspective on life differently than before. I know that not every day is guaranteed and that in an instant, someone you love could be gone. And in the wake of my disappointment of missing graduation, possibly my first semester of college, and much more, I receive a call from my grandmother, Carolyn Montfort. She called to remind me that she loves me, is proud of me, and even though I am disappointed that I'm missing so much, my family and I have conquered far larger storms. That Peyton has missed so much, yet he is in the best place of all. I will use these tools for the rest of my life, and through all of the tragedy, mourning, and tears, God has granted us a gift, after all. The gift of understanding.
Losing a family member, much less a brother, gives you perspective. We don't live surface level lives. Every day, we reside in deep waters.
So... "what is grief?" This whole blog series has explored the different perspectives and lessons that grief has provided us. I've learned that grief isn't the same for everyone, it isn't fashioned by someone else but between the griever and God, and that grief is ultimately a valuable tool in becoming the person you were meant to be.
Through my perspective, grief is like being in the ocean. But you never fully get out of the water. In the blink of an eye, you're drowning. And during a tragedy, you may come up for momentary breaths, but then a wave comes. Sometimes the water is calm. And sometimes it is thunderous. Sometimes you feel like you're just drifting away. Never to be found or saved.
However, after a while, you learn to swim. You learn to tread the waters lightly, trust in your savior, and take each day at a time. We may be drowned again, but through the lessons of this tragedy, we will swim with great strides when that day comes.
"When you go through deep waters, I will be with you." Isaiah 43:2
Oakley Weddle is Peyton's brother. When Peyton passed, Oakley was only fourteen. However, in those fourteen years they spent together, they formed a strong bond and friendship. They homeschooled together, cared for each other, and made each other laugh very much. Their favorite activity was watching Hawaii Five-O, eating Penne pasta, and building couch forts with their other two brothers, Hunter and Braeden.