General Support
Staying in Touch After a Life-Altering Event

“More than anything else, being able to feel safe with other people defines mental health." 
 Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

When someone you care about is enduring a traumatic illness, loss, or similar experience keeping in touch is sometimes challenging. We are trained, somehow, not to intrude in the space of another. In trauma/grief, the lines between intrusion and loving inquiry are sometimes murky. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I am writing this to encourage you to keep on reaching out. I am asking you to continue to ask how the one you care for is managing.

As a bereaved mother, I am here to tell you that they may not immediately reach back. But I am also here to tell you that they do appreciate the thought and the kind act. To my lasting regret, I did not reach back to everyone who reached for me. I was too overwhelmed. But even now, years out, I can tell you – to a person – who tried to keep in touch. Your concern is a lifeline. They may not know how to reach for it. But do keep on tossing it from the shore. It matters that they see you there – trying. Even as they keep treading the uncertain waters of grief, trauma, illness.

Emma Payne, the founder & CEO of Grief Coach, agrees.

“Grief is a journey that lasts well beyond the early months when we are surrounded by people, flowers, and casseroles. What grieving people need most of all, is for friends and family to be present and engaged over time."

Emma suggests putting key dates likes the deceased’s birthday and the day they died, into your calendar, so that you can always reach out on those days.

Here are five things one can do to stay connected:

  1. Send an email. “Missing you."
  2. Send a text. “Thinking about you."
  3. Take a picture of something that reminds you of them or the person they love and remember together.
  4. Send a postcard. “I am still thinking of you."
  5. Touch base about what concrete help they might need. If you are getting your car inspected, see whether their car needs inspection.

When my son’s stillbirth was still new, I remember a palpable sense of loneliness. Even then, it made me think about the rules of polite society and the place of etiquette. Do we talk about traumatic loss? How deeply to we delve into the contours of a parent grappling with a sick child? How much do we ask someone considering the possibility of their mortality?

For myself, I withdrew. I started to feel less attached to things. Occasionally, I would leave my home – out into the bright blue sky and the now barren trees which I had to believe would deliver once more new green leaves. I remember once thinking that I was homesick for myself. I was missing myself in exile. I wanted to tell people I was vanishing – but they were shy to ask and I was embarrassed to say. I would drive and I would notice the stark cold and the orange-lit pearl unbundled sky and wonder what this reconfigured and pixilated world even meant.

Contact. These caring gestures, however apparently slight, have tremendous weight. They remind the person in the throes of grief or uncertainty that they are seen. That their experience need not be only lonely.

Give InKind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We have an affiliate relationship with many of the advertisers on our site, and may receive a commission from any products purchased from links in this article. See Terms & Conditions.

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