For many of us, August represents the warmth of summer, leisurely vacations, sea, sand, and surf. It’s the last hurrah before school begins again, fall creeps in, and we start to contemplate wearing sweaters, coats, and boots. For the Duke of Cambridge, however, August has another meaning, as this August 31st will be the seventeenth anniversary of the loss of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
No one can truly understand another person’s grief and loss; however, the Duke of Cambridge is fortunate to have a partner who has shown herself to be kind, understanding, and gracious when dealing with the grief of others. She demonstrated these qualities clearly when, in 2012, she chose to be the royal patron of East Anglia Children’s Hospices. By doing so, she has shone a light on the need for support and care for children facing life-threatening conditions and their families.
Kate not only draws attention to children’s hospices in England – she has also visited hospices while on tour. Kate visited Hospis Malaysia in September 2012, and also visited Bear Cottage in Australia and Rainbow Place Children’s Hospice in New Zealand during the royal tour earlier this year. After her visit to Bear Cottage, she said that she was “ready for a big sob,” admitting to her own feelings of sadness in the face of the grief of others.
Kate also showed her grace and empathy while visiting Child Bereavement UK with Prince William in March 2013. She and William participated in a private meeting with eight parents who had lost children, and demonstrated care and compassion to those who were grieving.
It can be very challenging to handle the grief of others – especially those that we love. I think that the natural reaction to seeing someone’s sadness is to try and “make it better.” Unfortunately, when dealing with grief and loss, this is impossible to achieve. You cannot make the loss go away, or make the sadness lessen. I am a firm believer that we all have our own journey with grief. Instead of trying to understand another’s grief, it is more beneficial to do what you can to support that person through their journey. But the question remains, how can we best support and care for those who are grieving? We can look at Kate’s behavior – her empathy and graciousness – to find examples of what we can do in the face of another person’s grief.
Primary to supporting someone who is grieving is to give them the time, space, and understanding necessary for them to do so. Giving the gift of time to someone who has lost a loved one is surprisingly simple, yet often overlooked. In order to support someone, remember that the loss will continue to be felt and that there is no time limit on grief. Immediately after a loss, one is often inundated with well-wishers, emails, notes, and phone calls. In the recent aftermath of a loss, such non-stop contact from others can be a welcome strength and source of support. But then, after the first couple of days or weeks, the notes stop coming and the phone stops ringing. All of a sudden, there is quiet and loneliness in the face of the loss. Giving someone who is grieving the gift of time means remembering that grief is a long process – sometimes life-long. For example, the loss of a mother, like for Prince William, is not only felt in the immediate aftermath of the loss, but for every Mothering Sunday, birthday, graduation, and anniversary after.
It may be more challenging to give someone the space to grieve. Remembering that our tendency is to “fix it” or “make it better.” Giving someone space requires you to leave these inclinations at home. Give the person space to be sad, rather than try to distract or to placate him or her. Don’t be afraid when someone is sad, or when he or she chooses to have some alone time. As I said before, grief is a journey, and sometimes it is a journey that needs to be walked alone.
Finally, the greatest gift you can give someone who is grieving is the gift of understanding and acceptance. Understanding of their need for privacy or for company. Understanding of their need for mindless distractions or to immerse themselves in work. Acceptance that grief is a life-long process, that sadness will pop up unexpectedly, and that previously happy occasions may now be bittersweet.
There are many resources available to those who are facing or have experienced the loss of a loved one. The Duchess of Cambridge’s work with children’s hospices and her visit to Child Bereavement UK demonstrates this. Child Bereavement UK is an outstanding organization that not only provides support to those who are grieving, but also gives training to professionals on the topic of grief. Their website is a goldmine of information and support, and I strongly recommend looking through it in order to find suggestions for how to help a loved one who is experiencing grief.
Grief affects us all – let’s learn together how to help one another.