Stop Reading This

And if you know someone who’s grieving, do not say: “Call me if you need anything.”

In my most recent short story, the main character, an adolescent male named Luca, jumps off the roof of his high school after hearing about his best friend’s death. He feels responsible for her passing, which contributes to his suicide attempt. Luca has a lot of emotional problems; he wrecks havoc amongst his peers to satisfy his twisted sense of morality. Now imagine the inadequacy of his father coming into his room post-jump and saying:

please let me know what you want me to do

When someone goes through the grieving process – or any prolonged conflict of an emotional sort – they feel overwhelmed. Flooded. Encumbered, to a gruesome extent. By asking the grieving individual what you should do for them, you place even more of a burden on them. Even if they appreciate your kindness and recognize your good intent, they might not reach out for help just because they do not have the energy or the strength to do anything but fight past their sorrow, an already agonizing task.

If you care about someone, show it. Stop reading this and do something. Write a note. Bake cookies. Pick up their mail. Buy their groceries. Just act in a way that reveals that you want to help beyond a text message or a simple “please let me know if you want to talk.” You do not have to save the world; you do not have to revive the dead. Just be there, be anticipatory, be a friend. If someone has a problem, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that this is not about me, this is about my friend. Then ask yourself: what is one thing I can do for this person that will make their life just a little bit easier?

My grandfather passed away this past Monday, before I went home for Thanksgiving break. When I heard the news, I could only think about my grandmother and how sad she might feel. I kept asking myself over and over how I could somehow take away from her immense pain, the devastation of losing someone who she has spent the past 55 years of her life with. So I bought her some of her favorite chocolate, took an old photo album from my basement and brought it to her place, and looked through it with her. As I helped her flip through the laminated pages, my fingers intertwined with hers, I saw so much of our past: my parents before my birth, my aunts altogether and smiling, my grandmother and grandfather standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a clear, blue lake.

I could not bring my grandfather back from the dead, and I could not lift the grief off of my grandmother’s shoulders and throw it off the world. But maybe I made her woe one ounce lighter, even if for just a moment.

My little cousin and I made brownies today; lots of laughter ensured. Good times before the funeral tomorrow.

My little cousin and I made brownies today; lots of laughter ensured. Good times before the funeral tomorrow.

What do you guys think about the grieving process? Agree or disagree on my thoughts? The sentiment of “let me know if you need anything” can serve as an alright placeholder for further action, but it should not stand alone, at least in my opinion.

I hope everyone had a fulfilling Thanksgiving, and if you want to read more on how to help a grieving person, you can check out this article. Also, if you want to read my thoughts on Deadwood Dick: Prince of the Road by Edward Wheeler, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, or Victory Lap by George Saunders, you can do so here, here, and here respectively. Thank you for all of your support on my last post, and I look forward to hearing from everyone soon.

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20 Comments

Filed under Personal

20 responses to “Stop Reading This

  1. I’m sorry for your loss Thomas. I know your Grandparents are anchors for you. I think your words are so very true. And quite in tune for anyone of any age.

  2. Robert McCaffrey

    I would advise that if you are going to say something typical such as, “If there is anything I can do yada yada … ” then be prepared to do something if asked! I recall many years ago taking on the responsibility of making funeral arrangements for a best friend at his untimely and unexpected death at 30. Charles had also been our apartment building manager and I heard the aforementioned phrase from all 24 tenants. But when Charles’ bewildered and confused family arrived from the E. Coast–and I needed and asked for help from my neighbors–most of them were taken aback and resentful. I had to accommodate the family’s wishes and religious traditions which did not please Charles’ friends and neighbors. It was a thankless task and I had to put my grief on hold. Speaking of which–allowing a person to work through their grief is important. I have seen many bad therapists (and family members) try to deny a survivor’s right to grieve. We don’t really like the inconvenience of grief in our modern happy-face world. Sometimes I wonder if older traditions were not healthier in some ways with their ritualized and formalized mourning periods.

    I think for many of us a beloved grandparent’s death is often the first death we experience personally, and it is very often the hardest to deal with emotionally, not only because it is the first death that touches us, but because of the very special relationship we have to our grandparents. People will say all sorts of well-intentioned but stupid things, but I suppose we are all inadequate when dealing with death.

    Well, there you go. I meant to offer my condolences and I ended up talking about my own experience.

    I am glad to hear, Thomas, that you are comforting your grandmother right now and not shrinking away from her. There is some sort of comfort that I think a grandchild can provide best of all. But I can’t explain why that is to such a young person as yourself.

    • Thank you for your detailed comment, Robert! I agree that people should think about what they say before saying it; instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything” for the sake of saying it, really meaning it and wanting to actually help the person who’s grieving. I also think it’s intriguing that you raise the point about how society denies people the right to grieve – the thought reminds me of a TV show called Six Feet Under. I see what you mean overall in that death is ugly and that we are afraid of approaching it. Perhaps if we just let time do its work in a more natural and accepting way we would not need to bury our emotions or mask them.

      Hope you are doing well, Robert.

  3. thanks for sharing my huffpo article. What love you have with your grandmother.

  4. Kev

    I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you are being there for your grandmother, and maybe that in itself will help you through. I know how important it is for you to help others, now you are doing it on a personal level. I think people mean the best when they use the phrase you are speaking of. Some people just don’t know how to act or what to say around someone who is grieving. It’s a complicated mix of human emotions. Stay strong. Hugs.

  5. I agree with others about the “call me if you need anything”, and actually be there for the person if possible (financially/distance-wise). I think you did a really great thing for your grandmother, and I’m sure, in a way, it helped you too. I’m sorry for the loss of your grandfather. My maternal grandmother died a little bit after my son was born and we had been really close but because of how young my son was, we didn’t attend the funeral. I was on anti-depressants at the time and was numb to it all (even though I was very upset at the loss). It wasn’t till about a year later that I was able to properly grieve and write a poem about her (this really helped).

  6. I remember reading something about WHY we say this–the “let me know if you need anything” phrase–and how it’s entirely selfish. People say it because it clears their own conscience. They feel like they need to do something, but don’t know what, and if they say this then they feel like they’re doing everything they can.

  7. Sorry to hear about your grandfather. I think those little messages can be a small solace, but then the person who you are close to who just sends that and doesn’t come through with anything else is not being most helpful, shall we say. What I’ve appreciated during difficult times of any kind, and what I’ve tried to offer in return, is that the bad times do not suddenly stop; the effect does not suddenly stop, and an enquiry a week or a few weeks afterwards to check in – how are you doing / do you fancy a coffee / etc. can be very meaningful. It’s not all quick fix and acknowledging that the ripples carry on spreading through one’s life can be very helpful.

    • Yes, I agree, Liz – the checking in and keeping someone’s life in the back of your mind shows maturity and a continued state of compassion. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  8. Cara

    First off thank you Thomas for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. You always write so poignantly about your journey and life in general. I am sorry about the death of your grandpa. Grandparents can be can such a source of strength, wisdom, and comfort. Recently a friend of mine had an uncle pass away and I honestly didn’t know what I could do but reading this help me realize what you wrote is true. We don’t have to fix the whole situation but do something that may help, even if it is just a little. Wishing you the best Thomas.

    • Thank you for your comment, Cara, as it makes me glad that reading this post has helped you to reflect on a matter relevant to your own life. It always feel gratitude knowing that you still check up on my posts sometimes even though you have a huge life outside of Goodreads and the internet. Hope you are doing well!

  9. I’m sorry for your loss. From some of your posts I know how important your grandparents are to you. I know apologies like this always sound empty but this is all I can do right now. Sorry.

  10. I read this after commenting on the preceding post, and I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather. I agree, the best thing is just to be there for a grieving person, asking what can be done for them doesn’t help an ounce because what else can you do?

    And no crap like “time will make it better” that is the absolute worst. I hate that so much. It’s like saying all this overwhelming emotion swirling inside you now – this what will influence your most important decisions to make the next step in your life – will become eventually insignificant in the future. It’s messed up no matter how innocent.

    Words must be weighed carefully during this time because the vulnerable person in grief will be very sensitive and hurt and no one knows how he/she will interpret those well meaning words because words are known to be very elastic, easily twisted esp under stress.

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