Thoughts on “Help”

Prior to losing Dillon in 2018, I had some experience with grief.  The death of my father, both my mother and father-in-law, and my step-father. I remember it being a sad time in my life, but it was not “life changing”. Then in 2016 my first husband Patrick died suddenly and the sting of grief was stronger than I had felt before. His passing was so unexpected and I can remember being taken aback. I struggled through my own pain to focus on Kyle and Dillon, then 24 and 21, and how I could help them through this very unexpected event in their lives. We awkwardly navigated through the process, got the job done of having a memorial, and then swallowed our emotions and rarely spoke of it. When I did ask questions, the response was usually angry and uncomfortable to witness so I avoided the subject. I wanted them both to go to therapy to “process their pain”, because it was heartbreaking for me to watch. The key word here being “ME”. I was the one that felt helpless and it was difficult to see the two people I love most in this world struggle. The thing I discovered is that I couldn’t  “help” my sons through their grief, it was their process to experience.

Just two and a half short year later, Dillon was gone. Many people tried to “help”, because it’s what we’ve been conditioned to do as a society. Someone is in pain and we try to “fix” the problem. But the pain of grief needs to be felt, needs to be witnessed, and needs to be allowed. I needed to cry that ugly cry and fall apart and not have people turn away because it was uncomfortable to witness. I wanted to wail and scream and let out the soul crushing, mind shattering, agony that I felt. I started to save those moments for my time alone in the shower where I could confront my pain without interruptions, without words to cloud my journey, nor hugs to comfort the suffocating ache that I had to experience.

Friends and family called, visited, sent cards, offered words of condolence,  but no one really knows what to say. People would bring me flowers… oh how I hated flowers! It took me over a year to ever buy flowers again. Every bouquet that would show up at the door felt like it was desperately trying to cover up the agony of Dillon’s death with the gift of a colorful arrangement. I finally stopped bringing them in the house and would take them to the neighbors instead, thinking maybe it would represent something joyful to them. I know these beautiful gifts were meant to bring me comfort but during these first months, all they did was serve as another reminder that Dillon was gone. 

Then there were the “death books”. You know, other people’s account of their grief and how they are coping… kind of like this blog. For the love of all things mighty, don’t give a grieving mom a “death book” days after losing a child. There is a time and a place for all these things, but it’s not days or even weeks after losing a child. All I really wanted was to be left alone, or maybe just held. I wanted to cry and I wanted others to cry with me. I wanted to feel the depths of the loss of my son. I didn’t want to be soothed or given words of encouragement. It’s as if everyone wanted to “fix”me and make it all better. News Flash! NO one can make it “better”. 

Normally, I try not to give advice unless asked, but I think this is not a normal blog and I also think it’s important to say. IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY OR DO, DON’T FUCKING SAY OR DO ANYTHING AT ALL! Just listen! We have two ears and one mouth… use them in  proportion. You have two arms to fall into, open them wide and allow grief to happen. Don’t shush away the sobs and tears, don’t say contrite words of comfort, just allow the pain to come and be there as a pillar of strength. Be there to witness the pain, and be ok with how awkward and uncomfortable you feel. The grief will unravel, pain will sink in, the tears will flow, and healing will begin.

I find that most people struggle with being in silence and prefer to fill space with meaningless chatter. I know it can be uncomfortable to watch others cry and agonize, but I can honestly say that it’s very healing to be able to emote and have others listen… really listen and not try to find words of comfort. You can’t comfort grief with words. I can’t tell you how many times I heard things like, “you’ll get through this”, “time heals all wounds”, “he’s with God now”, “he wouldn’t want you to be sad”, etc. That’s all just bullshit crap people say because they don’t know what to do and it can be excruciating to watch someone you care about writhe with pain. I implore you to bite your tongue the next time you are trying to “help” someone with emotional pain. Bite your tongue and allow the tears to flow. Crying is so powerful and actually very helpful. It’s a release of emotions that cleanses the soul. 

There is a quote by Anne Lomott, “Help is the sunny side of control.” We help in order to control. Control our own pain and uncomfortableness. Control the energy in the room, or control the way a conversation is going. We help because it feels selfish to do nothing, but doing nothing and allowing someone to process their pain without interruption is truly the most healing thing we can do.

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and experiences.

All my love, 



  1. This is such a touching, helpful blog, Mary. We ALL need to LISTEN MORE and TALK LESS!!! Written with honesty and understanding, o your BIRTHDAY of all days…….BIG HUGS, OODLES OF LOVE, Lynn

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