Death is hard to think and talk about. Collectively we have all felt different levels of grief this year. Whether it be for the passing of our favorite icon like Kobe Bryant, or the countless unjust murders of the black community like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Monika Diamond, or the loss of family members to COVID-19.
This year, the Asian American community is experiencing a spike in deaths related to COVID-19. AAPI Data has reported a 35 percent increase of Asian American deaths. With this grim statistic, it is important that we show empathy and support for our community members who are experiencing the loss of a loved one.
How do you “be there” for someone after a heartbreaking loss? If you find yourself thinking, “I don’t know what to do” or “I don’t know what to say” you are not alone. I have fumbled with my words, unsure of what to say, feeling helpless when trying to comfort someone. It wasn’t until my own loss, the death of my twin brother from a tragic accident, that I was able to get insight on what kind of support to give in the aftermath of death.
Navigating my personal grief journey I came across The Dinner Party, a platform for 20-30 somethings to build a community for those who have lost loved ones. The Dinner Party has provided me great resources to deal with grief. For anyone looking to be a good support system for someone dealing with loss, I highly recommend reading The Dinner Party’s guide: “Being There, What (& What Not) to say and do in the aftermath of loss”. This guide provides 6 tips for “being there”. Reading through this guide, I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful many of the tips were.
Here are the top 3 tips I found most helpful:
1. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how you can help.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do”. “I’m here for you. Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
Although well intentioned, when I first lost my twin, I would feel frustrated and overwhelmed when people said, “Call me/tell me if I can do anything for you”. I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t verbalize what I needed because I was riding a rollercoaster of emotions. I didn’t want to reach out for help. I just wanted to grieve and not think about anything. I would then feel guilty for feeling frustrated which made me feel worse.
Do Offer something specific: Or just do it.
My best friends would call me and say “I’m getting you boba. What flavor do you want?” or “I’m outside, let’s go for a drive” or just show up with food and sit with me. I am forever grateful for these specific offerings because it did not require much thinking or decision making on my part. A friend or a loved one doing something nice for me, without being asked, was such a comfort, especially during such a crazy time.
2. Don’t tip-toe, don’t compare, and don’t whitewash.
“Everything happens for a reason” “
Often people feel the need to provide rationale or explanation as a way of comforting. When hanging out with friends or family. I would hear “He’s in a better place”, a lot. This is also well intentioned, but it did not feel good to hear. It felt minimizing and overly simplified a significant loss. It also made me feel uncomfortable to talk about how I was really feeling. I appreciated these text messages I got from a few of my friends: “ I’m so sorry that your brother died, I love you and I’ll be there to help you through this ” and “ I know this is a hard time for you and your family, just know that I’m thinking of you and I love you.” These messages addressed the loss head on and expressed their support for me, which made me feel comforted and supported.
Finding people who are willing to listen without judgement or intervention is such a relief. It gave me the freedom to talk about my experience, be emotional, and feel heard. Immediately after my loss it helped when loved ones who would just “be there” physically to be a shoulder to cry or hold my hand and listen to me vent about my sadness or anger. In the throes of grief, sometimes all you need is a kind empathetic ear willing to listen without commentary.
3. Tell me about…
I started noticing that people would avoid talking about my brother and would quickly change the topic if it was about his death. It felt very isolating.
I asked my friend about why she didn’t talk about him to me. She felt bad and said she didn’t want to make me upset or sad. I let her know it is okay to talk or ask questions about him. If I felt upset, I would let her know. Don’t be afraid!
I appreciate it when people ask me about my brother and what kind of person he was. My favorite thing is listening to people tell stories about him. It helps keep his memory alive.
Dealing with my grief has been both painful and enlightening. I have learned the importance of community and having people who are willing to “be there” for you. I hope that by sharing this guide it will help build and inform a community of support for anyone who has lost someone.
AAPI Data - https://aapidata.com/covid19/
The Dinner Party - https://www.thedinnerparty.org/resources