Leave It at the Door
You likely care about someone who is, or will be, grieving. I’d like you to give you some thoughts about how to help.
Please have a look at this note a school librarian found outside her front door or slipped underneath. Whose day wouldn’t a letter like that make?
Reginae’s letter got me to thinking about the skills people need in order to be with those who are grieving.
In the grief workshops I do for organizations, part of what I teach is how to be a presence who is not trying to mitigate, fix, or remove others’ grief, but rather a container that helps them bear it.
This is essentially practicing a way to be there usefully rather than harmfully.
Having thought about Reginae’s gesture, I’m going to add a new practice.
In a way, it’s how also to not be there, at least in terms of creating social obligation for someone who, grieving, has very little energy to give back.
Reginae—the girl who wrote this love letter to her school librarian—sealed it in an envelope, tucked it under the welcome mat or slipped it under the office door, then ran like the dickens!
Reginae’s got a basic skill going we all could learn from.
Leaving It at the Door
Normally, when we give, we do so as part of a larger social contract that involves reciprocity. Someone gives us a compliment, we say something pleasing in return.
But when someone’s energy is siphoned into grieving, ordinary social reciprocity is simply not possible for a very long time. As you may have experienced yourself, when you’re grieving, you may not have the energy or the perspective even to ask how your friend or colleague is in return.
So another key skill for us to get better at when we’re trying to support someone who’s grieving is suspending any expectations of reciprocity in friendships for whatever time it takes for someone to come back and do the “work” of friendship again — including reaching out, offering invitations, listening, offering support, being available for shared fun.
We need to learn to leave it at the door ... and run.
In Indian, Indonesian, and Puerto Rican cultures, gifts are customarily opened away from guests — in part to save face for the receiver. With the common practice in the United States of expecting a reaction from a gift or gesture at the time it is given, it’s worth our taking a second look at the benefits of simply … leaving it at the door.
Let's Make It Practical.
You make an offer in a firm, non-asking way. (The most they should have to say back is “no.”)
I’ll be dropping off a complete supper for you and the family Friday night at 5:30; all you’ll need to do is warm it up in the microwave.
I’m going to bring fresh flowers every week this month unless you tell me to stop.
I’m going to come pick you up for lunch on Thursday. It’s my treat.
I’m picking you up for a weekend at my house. Pack a book.
I’ve got an appointment for you for a massage at my favorite massage therapist’s. Does Saturday at 1:00 work or do you need a different time?
I’ve been wanting to try this gentle yoga class. How about I pick you up at 6:00 and we can do it together?
Why It Can Be Better Not to Ask
Some people helping the grieving tend to ask for a lot of affirmation: Am I giving you what you need? Am I doing it right?
Or worse, they proffer the ever-present, “Let me know how I can help” or “I’m here if you need anything.”
They put the burden on the griever to recognize what they need when they are already numb, depleted, or beyond the ability to put feelings into words.
If a griever is even able to name what they need, they then have to determine how to ask for it and face the risk of naming a need, only to have the person say no. That’s a lot of work when you can’t think.
Refrain from putting them in that position.
Instead, just drop off:
A baker’s dozen of bagels.
A selection of candles.
Regular notes of love and support with the assurance that no reply is expected.
A basket of healthy snacks.
A scented eye pillow or fleece throw blanket.
A beautiful journal.
A photo frame.
Food. Food. Food.
A phone call every other day, without fail, at 7:00 p.m. A voicemail message that expresses caring and “no need to call back.”
Notice of a tree planted or a star named.
A basket of extra-special foods or foods traditional to the griever’s culture.
A plant that needs very little maintenance with super-simple instructions.
A beautiful set of thank-you notes, consistent with the person’s taste, for them to use in writing thank-you’s.
Bath salts or a diffuser and essential oils in a scents you know the person likes.
Do not forget chocolate!
What do all these things have in common? They take time and consideration — all of which is done in your own time, without asking any of the energy or time of the griever.
In other words, just don't make them come to the door.
So, Who’s the Father?
So, Who’s the Father?” isn’t exactly what a person who’s expecting wants to hear. It can feel like an accusation, like an invasion of privacy, or like a completely irrelevant question, depending on one’s method of conception, key relationships, or plan for childrearing. Even in days when there were fewer methods for conceiving a child or for avenues for getting one to adulthood, Emily Post might have advised just to stick with a hearty congratulations.
Ostranenie: A Fantastic Russian Word
Learn to pronounce ostranenie and impress your friends with your accent as well as with this cool word.
And what a concept … to learn to re-see, as if with new eyes, those things our eyes think they know so well, they no longer see them at all.
To find wonder again and again in the way our sister-in-law calls company in for dinner without the least hint of anxiety, exhaustion, or sense of the extraordinary event.
To learn anew about the people we think we know best.
The Creature Comforts Checklist
This is it our “Creature Comforts Checklist.” It’s an odd name, we know.
We called it that, recognizing that grief is a very physical thing and that sometimes what grievers most need (aside from not being asked if they need anything) is not to talk but to be. Just a creature.
When you’re grieving, you miss the physical presence of the person you lost …
Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”
You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather
How Can Something Be Neither Good Nor Bad?
It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy
Becoming the Witness
I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning