The unfortunate truth of life is we will all grieve at some point. The physical forms of the ones we love most in the world do not stay with us forever, and though the love can never go away, we all experience loss eventually.

From the outside, approaching those who are grieving can feel confusing and disorienting when you’ve never experienced a traumatic event like losing a loved one. Making an effort to be understanding to those entombed in pain is far more helpful than avoiding the grieving all together. 

Grief can be messy, raw, all consuming, completely dizzying, and extremely powerful. It doesn’t just go away. You do not move on from it. You do not get through it to some other end where it’s done and behind you.

It resurfaces years later just as potently as the very first day. It does not take on one streamlined form, falling into simple categories and following a strict guidebook. Seemingly insignificant daily occurrences trigger the pain as you walk through the world, dragging the event back into your space like it was yesterday.

Though it can be difficult to understand traumatic loss until you’ve experienced it, bones broken and buried deep in the destruction under layers of earth with remnants scattered, showing up and making an effort to be understanding is helpful. There is nothing to do or say from the outside of it; there is only showing up and fiercely loving those lost in it.

Grief can come in many shapes; every situation is different. Approaching someone else’s pain may feel daunting; perhaps you’re worrying about finding the right words, or you feel uncomfortable with others’ sadness. There are no correct words or actions; in fact, there is nothing really to do or say. All you can do is be present and love, hold a safe space, and just sit in it with the grieving.

Some things to keep in mind when trying to help those you love who are hurting might be that there is no right thing to say, nothing to do, and no way to fix it or even make it hurt less. There is no need to try to fix them, just like any other human going through any difficulty. They are not broken, no matter how much they feel like they are, and they need no fixing. Human beings hurt and heal, and we can be destroyed, but we are bendy, and we never fully break. Pieces may scatter in the disaster, and they aren’t bits that come back together, but every human is still a soul and a heart that continues to beat.

I can only speak from my own experience, as my father died suddenly when I was very young, leaving me far too familiar with grief. What I find to be comforting is for others to be present, sit with me, and continue to love me in it.

Perhaps you can offer support by hugging them and holding them. You can ask if they know what they need and most likely they won’t know, but you can stay. Stay with them so they aren’t so alone.

For me, the grief came in tsunamis, and continues to knock me down in tidal waves sometimes.

The loss was like having the floor drop suddenly from beneath my feet in a nanosecond, foundation ripped from below me, my entire world turned upside down and shaken profusely until all the pieces that were crushed in the wrecking fell into nothingness and starting over from scratch was all that could be done.

Rebirth becomes the only thing left to do because there’s nothing to piece together again, no normal to get back to, leaving everything completely different and new. There’s no going back to how it was before. The loss is not a moment, a day, or an event, but an entirely new lifetime. 

Grief is a massive spill that slides into all the crevices of your life you never would have imagined, leaking into all the different areas of your life that seem completely unrelated. It’s not grieving the one loss. It’s grieving the loss of grand parts of yourself and of the people around you also destroyed in the trauma. It’s grieving all of the promises that had been made, the expectations for all the days you were supposed to spend together, the events that were supposed to take place that have now been taken away, especially when the death comes young and suddenly. It’s grieving the loss of the life you had counted on.

Self-help books on grief try to categorize the stages and fit the process into a neat, tidy, and completely unrealistic box. The phases come and go, in various orders, and there is nothing tidy about it. Emotions that don’t seem to have names surface, combinations of indescribable feelings that cannot be labeled. The pain is unpredictable.

Avoiding those who are grieving because you’re unsure of what to do or how to react probably won’t help the situation. Letting them know you truly care, following through, and reminding them that you love them are the small acts that can make them feel less like a burden. Showing up and loving them is often the support that’s needed.

It’s okay if you don’t get it. You do not need to fully understand or make it better, but trying to be understanding, listening, and letting them know they’re heard is a loving way to show support. Simply holding a safe space may provide as much comfort as can exist in such a painful time. They still want to feel human, still want to laugh and go out in the world, even though other times they want to stay under the covers all week.

You don’t have to drag them out of the muck; sometimes they just need to let their limbs lie flat and splayed over the ground, holding their bones and rolling in the dirt until they can begin to prop themselves upright. There is no timeline, and it won’t pass like you think it should. It never goes away, but they do begin to breathe again. They live again, but on grief’s own time.

Hearing urges from the outside to simply move on when grieving can feel hurtful and frustrating.

Grief is not something you get through, feet trudging in thick sludge to eventually reach the other side.

You breathe again and you live, but it’s never left behind. You move forward and carry on with living in your own time, but it’s not neatly sealed in a phase of your life. It resurfaces and spreads over lifetimes. Wounds so deep leave scars and phantom limbs. Muscle memory reignites the pain, and tiny, daily triggers reopen the wounds.

Be sensitive to their hurt regardless of your level of understanding. Some nights I still wake up sobbing in the middle of the night unable to breathe even eight years later. Sharing these types of experiences with those around me is scary because it makes me feel so foreign to others, when we all really want to be loved and accepted even in our darkness.

For a very long time, I self isolated because I didn’t think anyone would want to be around me, which is fair, as it can be very heavy and not everyone is able to sit in that with another person. However, the people who stayed and kept showing up are the ones who now live with me in the new blissful yet often bittersweet life I’ve worked so fiercely to create.

To me, laughter is the greatest savior in grief.

Laughing with those who feel the pain with you is the most indescribable magic that cannot be comprehended until you’ve felt it. From the deepest, darkest, most vast hurt is when laughter feels the best. Despite the guilt I felt from experiencing a moment of joy in the hurt, when laughter forced its way through my throat, it was the only time I felt like I could breathe.

Having someone stay, sit with you, and love you regardless of their level of traumatic experience, makes all the difference. Having someone love you even when you feel like this foreign, broken, damaged creature is how you survive. Loving is the only life preserver in grief.

The hurt never goes away and it doesn’t quite fade, but I will say I am okay.

I am a full human living a beautiful life. It hurts like the very first day sometimes, but other days the most prominent feeling is the love I always had with my father and still have.

Love never goes away. It carries over lifetimes, and that is something that can never be taken with the loss. I am here in this world for the full spectrum of human experience, and I feel the grandest bliss some days because I have felt the deepest pain. I believe your capacity for hurt is also that for joy, and you cannot have one without the other. My light is so bright because it shines from the vastest darkness. Being brave and unafraid of the dark, whether yours or another human’s, is powerful. Leaping in with love is how you can help bring light to the grief.