The Grief Gift

Marika Páez Wiesen is an educator, writer, and coach for women who are ready to unhook from all-or-nothing, toxic-productivity mindsets. Her Substack newsletter, Living the In-Between Times, explores playful experiments that uncover the delight, awe, ease and yes! that waits for us in the in-between times of life.

A few months ago, I found my daughter wet, wrapped in a towel post-shower, sitting on the edge of her bed, staring off into space.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Mom,” she started slowly. “I’m thinking about something I want to give to A.”

A. was a school friend who had just experienced the sudden loss of a beloved pet. My daughter understood how A., a deep lover of animals, might especially be affected by the loss.

“I want to make, like, a sheet for her to fill out. A note that would have questions like, ‘What feelings are you having? How can I support you?’  And I want to make it easy for her, so the answers would be check-boxes, with things like:

-Don’t say anything.
-Ask other people not to say anything.
-Give me extra hugs.
-Do nothing.

And—I don’t know. I don’t know would definitely be an answer option for all of the questions. Also, checking more than one will be an option, like Don’t say anything, and also, Ask other people not to say anything.” She looked up at me, “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

I studied my then-9-year-old’s earnest face.

My mind flashed to my friend Sarah, who showed up, arms full, heart bravely open, to walk with me through the darkest days of my life. The loss of a son, stillborn at 8 months gestation, 14 years ago as I write this.

I remembered how she rallied a small army of colleagues and friends to deliver meals for weeks and weeks, while carefully arranging the deliveries so we needn’t feel pressured to greet any visitors.

I thought about the day she delivered me a pair of jean shorts in the precise size I’d need to weather the transition from not-quite maternity belly through a miserable stretch of baby-less, postpartum no-man’s-land.

While we were lost in the freeze of shock and sorrow, she gathered a handful of invitations from other couples who said they’d be willing to talk to us about the ways they’d navigated their way through crushing agony back to hope’s brink.

I thought about my daughter’s idea for her friend, and about my friend Sarah, and I wondered if some people just have a gift in grief. An intuitive sense of what might be welcomed or needed.

This is a gift I wish I had. Despite having landed safely on the other side of my own awful traverse, I find myself still embarrassingly lame and hobbled in responding to loss around me. My tongue suddenly too thick for my mouth, overtaken by a panicked freeze of uncertainty.

I suppose we don’t all need to have the same gifts. I suppose this is why some friends are blessings to be treasured.

Especially the ones who intuitively understand that there are countless possible responses to grief, including I don’t know, or, All of the above.

And, always, the ones who understand that the perfect pair of jean shorts won’t solve everything, but can still feel like so much love.

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