Grief is not just something that happens when we lose someone important to us. It’s something we do all throughout our lives as our hopes, dreams and expectations fail to become realities. It’s an emotion we experience when we feel the weight of wasted time, words we cannot take back and opportunities we missed.
Grief, from my point of view as a therapist, is the process of accepting a painful reality that cannot be undone or changed. When someone we cherish departs this world, our brains and our hearts struggle to accept this new truth. But we also grieve when we begin accepting that some of the people still in this world will never give us what we need from them. We grieve when we realize that our dreams of being an athlete, a parent, a student at a certain college or leaving a legacy behind will not survive the brevity of our life.
It’s a brutal thing to grieve with someone. As much as the person experiencing the loss has to come to terms with a reality that is not going to change, the good friend who grieves alongside them has to come to terms with their own helplessness. The friend who accepts our grief as their own also has to accept the reality that they cannot change it in any substantial way for us. The loss is still the loss, no matter how many times we tell them we’re sorry or that everything will be okay someday.
Thanking Our Shoulders to Cry On
No one would expect you to thank these folks in the middle of your process of losing, grieving and accepting. These friends are there for you because they cannot help but be there and they don’t expect you to take care of them in the moment or reward them. But thanking them after the fact is a beautiful moment of returning the connection they provided you in a moment where you could barely put one foot in front of the other.
Thanking our shoulders to cry on requires us to show a simplicity that matches the helplessness we all experienced in the moment. It doesn’t require us to provide big words or gestures, but simply declare them unforgettable. It means letting them know that at a time where the world reminds you how quickly things can be taken away and how strong the pain can be, that you still were not alone.
It means saying something as simple as “thank you for being there for me” or “thank you for supporting me during __________.” The power is not in the brilliance of the words, but in reminding them that all these years later, in the midst of unforgettable pain, that they still stand out as a friend. It’s your way of showing them that even though they couldn’t change the situation, their efforts made all the difference.
Go do it. Think of the moments that knocked the wind out of your life, pinpoint the people who propped you up and tell them you remember.