Reaching Out When Someone Is Grieving

I founded Modern Heirloom Books after the process of making a tribute book in honor of my mother, who had recently passed away, was so healing and joyful for me that I wanted to pay that experience forward.

Losing my mother was, simply, devastating. And it happened when my baby boy was just three months old; I was reeling from her death, and navigating life as a new mother myself…

The best balm to my soul at the time was hearing stories: stories I knew by heart about my mother, their having been part of our family lore for years, and even more so the stories I had never heard before—moments she shared with friends and acquaintances that they then shared with me during this difficult time. Those glimpses into her life and her being helped to keep her memory vividly alive, and allowed me to grieve as part of a community.

That experience was transformative, and I have since made it part of my personal mission to be there for others who are going through loss. People do not talk about death anymore; and, too often, they do not know how to interact with someone who is grieving.

“Death was so common in the 19th century that it was readily addressed. People wore black if they were in mourning and were treated accordingly.... It seems we’ve got out of the habit and the subject has become taboo.”
—Atalanta Beaumont, Psychology Today

Talking about death openly—and about the person who has died—is critical. But how?

 cards with advice for talking to someone who has lost a loved one and is grieving

I was pleasantly surprised recently when walking through my local drug store to find a thoughtful and instructive resource to help with just that. From Hallmark and CVS, amidst the sympathy and get-well cards, were a series of take-away cards for those grieving, or who were caring for someone battling cancer.

The advice was straightforward, compassionate, and easy. And it was exactly what I might offer to a friend:

  • Listen, be you, stay connected.
  • Be present: “Let the griever feel whatever he or she feels, without judgment.”
  • And be patient: “There’s no timeline for grief, so don’t pressure the griever to ‘move on’ or ‘get over’ the loss. Allow them time to grieve, feel, and heal…however long it may take.”

Listen, with an open heart. And when the time is right, share your own memories of the deceased—no matter how inconsequential they may seem to you, they will be received as a gift by someone who is grieving.

Related Reading:

Wish You Were Here, Mom: My most personal post, on the occasion of what would have been my mother’s 70th birthday. 

Holiday Grief: We may yearn for a lost loved one even more during the holidays, but know that shared memories are a balm to the soul, and that grief is another form of love.

The Healing Power of Remembrance: “The prescription for joy and healing after loss is to remember.”

Mommy & Me: How a struggle to tell my mother’s whole story turned into a more intimate portrait of love.

Notes from a Funeral: Sharing memories about lost loved ones to heal—and why we don't honor our families through story sharing now.

Legacy Book FAQ: Answers to some common questions about what goes in a tribute  legacy book, and how they are created