Just be there for them
By Nathan Rice
The waiter took our menus after we placed our orders. I looked at the young man across the table from me, and he looked at me — neither of said anything for a moment.
It had only been two days since I sat next to him at the funeral home as his family and friends stopped to offer condolences and pay their final respects to his grandfather. The day following that emotional night, he was informed that his two cousins, and best friends, were also gone.
A 13-year-old should not have to deal with the loss of three family members this close together, but tragedy can strike at any age.
There was no point in asking if he was OK, because I knew that he was not. I asked him a trite question in the hopes it would start a conversation. “Are you hanging in there this week?” He replied only with, “Yeah,” which let me know he wasn’t yet ready to talk about the events of the past few days. I said, “I’m going to miss them,” as I wiped a tear off my own cheek.
I knew we’d need to talk about grief and mourning very soon. I had already made arrangements to meet with him in a few days to share some ways to deal with grief and to help prepare him for the process of grieving.
That day, however, the best thing I could was to be there. I knew there was nothing I could say that would remove the pain he was feeling, but I hoped that being there would let him know that he wasn’t alone.
We talked about a lot of things while we ate our meal. We would occasionally mention a memory of those who were lost, but most of our conversation focused on other topics.
There are many ways to support those who are grieving, but one of the greatest things we can do for them is to be there. The presence of loved ones is a balm for wounds that cannot be healed.
This is especially the case for the younger ones among us. The loss of people they love can leave youth feeling lost and alone. In some cases, a serious loss may be the first time a young person has experienced grief. Mourning may bring confusion as they try to learn how to deal with their emotions.
I would have taken his pain if I could have transferred it upon myself, but I could not. The grief was his to handle, but it did not have to be his to handle alone. I could walk alongside him, proving to him that he was not alone.
We ate our meal that day, and we talked about many things. Sometimes, though, we just sat across from each other without saying a word. It was a sad dinner, but it was a shared dinner, and I think that made a difference.
We have shared several meals since our first time together after his loss. Other times we have walked along the waterfront or taken a short cruise down the Elizabeth River. Grieving is a long process, and coming alongside someone should not end after the funeral flowers have withered and the sympathy cards have stopped showing up in the mail.
Healing takes time, and grief will come long after many people have stopped checking on the ones who remain. Stay the course with those who have lost people they love, especially the children and youth.
Many may not be ready or willing to speak about their feelings or emotions, but most will be willing to allow you to stand beside them. A majority will allow you to take them out for a meal.
It’s good if they’re willing to talk about what they are going through, but sometimes the thing they need the most is simply a person they love near them. Take the kids out for ice cream, go for a walk along the water, stop for a meal, or take a picnic at a nearby park. Play a game of catch or go fishing on the pier.
I hope my presence has helped and will continue to help the young teenager who is facing such a significant loss. I know it has helped me.
Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at email@example.com.