Two Things I Learned While Coping With Grief

My mother in law passed away from Cancer at 62.

“I love you too” were the last words my wife heard from Carol. Her loving mom, biggest fan, and biggest supporter.

We learned about the news during a late afternoon visit at her house. She was losing her ability to swallow, and we were brainstorming a couple of new options we haven’t tried yet to help her. Then my wife, her brother, and I went to get a pizza for dinner. Twenty minutes later, when we came back, Carol was gone.

We cried, hold, and kissed her until her body was completely cold and discolored.

For two months, despite the lack of progress, my wife and I have convinced ourselves that we could heal Carol. We read about many stories of unexpected survivors of advanced cancers who used alternative methods of healing to beat the odds. So we thought “If they did it, Carol could definitely do it too!”

Carol was on board too, and she never gave up. She fought and loved us until her last breath. 

My mother-in-law's death was the first time in my life that I was at the epicenter of such traumatic and disruptive loss. And there are two important things that I learned during this experience. I wanted to share those things with you because they’ve helped me better understand and support my wife during her loss, and to be more prepared to grieve or help a grieving loved one in the future.

The first thing is “Don’t Choke.”

After sharing the bad news with family and friends, some thought twice before calling, and others didn’t even reach out to show their support. They didn’t know what to say.

Family and friendship are all about loving and supporting each other through good times and bad. So when someone close to you suffers a significant loss, even if you can’t feel or understand what they’re going through—be there for them anyways.

Loving others during times like these is about being a good listener. Being patient and a source of comfort. Sticking close to listen, laugh, and cry with them. Everything else in your mind, any excuse, any fear, to not reach out or show up when you’re most needed. It’s just crap! And I don’t buy it.

So don’t choke. Be a good listener, Be patient, and Be there.

The second thing is “Let Them Cook Their Soup.”

A lesson I recently learned from reading a children’s book on grieving.

Seeing my wife in so much pain, all I could think of was how to help her get back to normal and happy as soon as possible. I started planning things to get her relaxed and distracted. And every time she burst into tears, I tried coaching her to help her calm down.

Sometimes I’d feel like a hero. But some others, after telling her something she didn’t want to hear, “Baby your mom is gone, she can’t come back,” I felt more like a villain. I was lost and confused.

But then I read this children’s book called “Tear Soup.” The story is about a woman, who works through a significant loss in her life by blending her emotions and memories into a big pot of Tear Soup.

The message of the book is that grief takes time, much longer than anyone wants. Like making a big pot of soup from scratch. And like all recipes, everyone has their way of making it. Not everyone griefs the same way.

When supporting someone who’s making tear soup, don’t rush them. Allow your grieving loved one to make mistakes, grief differently from the way you would, and avoid giving them easy answers or telling them how they should feel. Make them feel comfortable to cry in front of you.

Remember, it’s their recipe, not yours.

Grief is both physically and emotionally exhausting. At times it can be irrational and unpredictable. When a loved one experiences a significant loss in their life, don’t help them get over their loss, or recover from their loss. Help them get through their loss.

So don’t choke, be there for them, and just let them cook their soup.