The Grief Tribe
"Gabby, why do people stop checking in, after someone dies?"
I have been asked this many times and I always try to find the right answer, but the truth is that I do not know.
Most people are there after your person dies, especially the first two weeks. They call or text, they’ll send a card, or they might offer to stop by with food. And after the first two weeks, a few of them stop checking in, and a few weeks after that more do the same. And then one day you realize that barely anyone checks in and you ask yourself why… why did they stop, why aren’t they checking in, why don’t they get it that I am hurting every single minute, of every single day?
I always thought that it was because our grief is too much for them, or perhaps they have never experienced what we are feeling so they couldn’t possibly understand how long grief lasts… which is forever. It could also be that they have experienced it, and are walking their own grief journey, and talking about ours brings everything up for them. Many people have no idea what it feels like to relive the memory of the day your person died, or all the birthdays, holidays, weddings, first dates, proposals, or simply memories of a life spent together… year after year after year. It's hard to find someone who can sit with you at this really difficult time, and see you through the days, weeks, months, and all the years that will follow.
I have experienced this myself. Most of my closest friends stopped checking in, except for two or three, who have really shown up for me. I have also been really surprised by the ones who do check in, which are people I have met through the work I do, which I get since we are all so familiar with death, dying, and grief. And it is because of them that I now realize some people do not do grief, and while feelings are hurt, it is what it is. The advice I give now is to not be surprised if those you are closest to don’t want to talk about it, change the subject when you do, and stop checking in completely.
This is when you need to find your grief tribe, which might take some time.
We know that our grief isn’t going anywhere, but those who have not walked in our shoes have no idea what this feels like. Some people don’t know what to say, or what to do, and feel so awkward that it is easier to step back… which I truly believe they regret. I think we need to get better at reaching out to our friends and family and let them know what we need. We have to be able to tell them how hard this is and learn to ask for help, even if it’s just to take a walk or watch a movie or spend the night so you can try and get some sleep. And if there is no answer at the door, or on the phone, or from the text message… reach out to a grief therapist or counselor and ask for help.
There are many resources available for you.
I know it feels like it some days… but you are not alone.
Find your grief tribe.
You can reach out to your local hospice and ask what grief support they offer, which is usually free to the community whether you used hospice or not. They can also offer resources in your area.
You can check your insurance to see what grief support they offer.
There are numerous free, online grief support groups as well.