Mayfield: Helping others through loss with empathy, care, and memory

Mar 24, 2023, 7:47 AM | Updated: 9:17 am


(Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

A friend’s baby son died this week. There are no words to accurately describe what that loss means. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

Death, loss, and grief are hard things, we have a visceral aversion that can physically repel us. And when we see others forced into facing them directly, sometimes our instinct is to turn away for fear we will say or do the wrong thing.

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Here’s a little secret, there’s nothing you can do that will be the actual right thing for those bereaved parents. What they want is the one thing no one in the entire world can do — to give them their son back.

So what can we do? We can stand up, we can show up, and we can speak up.

Stand up by not ignoring them or pretending they aren’t in the worst kind of pain. Acknowledge that pain — own it yourself— and let them know you are in it with them.

Listen to them. You don’t need to try and solve it. You don’t need to try and fix it. You cannot do either. You can truly hear them when they sob or when they rage. You can be the person they text in the middle of the night when they cannot sleep.

The loved ones left behind don’t need your sympathy, they need your empathy.

Show up by physically being there. They need help with practical matters they have no ability to attend to. Their world just burned to the ground, they need someone to feed them, drive them to the doctor, to do their dishes.

Don’t vaguely tell them, ‘let me know what you need…’ instead, find out what they need and do it. Work with friends and other family members to coordinate, so you don’t overwhelm them or work at cross purposes.

Speak up, say the name of the person who died, and never stop saying it. Remember them. Talk about them for years to come.

And do it in love. Open your heart. Don’t flinch. Those left behind aren’t strong or brave or anything, they simply have no other choice.

I love you, Tessa. I love you, Jack. I love you, Sawyer.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Mayfield: Helping others through loss with empathy, care, and memory