This was already on my mind this week when a very dear friend told me one of his parents passed away.
My first reaction to news like this is always an urge to bake. I'm sure it's all about finding a way to provide comfort, but it makes me wonder if my grief stages are messed up.
- Stage 1: Denial - "I shouldn't be anywhere near pastries now, I'm on a diet!"
- Stage 2: Anger - "Cream cheese frosting has how many fucking calories??"
- Stage 3: Bargaining - "I'm just going to try one cupcake and put the rest into this tin for Aunt Ida. You know, for quality control purposes. She already lost Uncle Odie, the last thing that poor woman needs now is a shitty cupcake."
- Stage 4: Depression - "I can't believe I ate all the cupcakes."
- Stage 5: Acceptance - "There's always Scruff. I'll find a cute chaser."
I suppose baking is a way of expressing my care and support nonverbally. Because I always feel awkward verbalizing to someone who's recently lost a loved one. I just always think they have enough to deal with, they don't need me in their face yapping at them. I'd probably just make them feel worse. And what if I say the wrong thing? Oh God, what if they start to cry? I can already feel my drama hives starting to itch. Better just to send a gift or flowers to let them know I'm thinking of them.
But after recently experiencing this from the other side, I've come to realize I need to be less uptight and self-conscious, and more caring and expressive with my love. I want to be more like my amazing friends.
The following is my personal opinion and I know it won't apply to everyone. But I don't think I'm that much different from my friends in this regard. So I'm going to let my personal experience guide my actions going forward when someone I care about loses someone they care about:
- Formalities are nice, but informalities are just as good and often warmer and more immediate. Send your condolences in a thoughtful, somber Hallmark card if your breeding and etiquette simply won't allow otherwise. But a call, email or text message will mean every bit as much. I know it's hard to judge how long to wait for the initial shock to pass, and it depends on the circumstances. But don't wait too long. Now is the time it helps most to be reminded what a wonderful support system I have. Still, late is always better than never.
- Don't worry about saying the wrong thing. There's almost* nothing you can say that would make me feel worse. But knowing that you care will make me feel better. (*Exception to this rule: Someone actually told me "I'm so sorry. These things always happen in threes, you know." Yeah, don't do that.)
- Don't be afraid to make me laugh. So many of my friendships are based on a complimentary sense of humor. Don't change those dynamics now. It's very likely the person I've lost loved to laugh too. If so, our laughter honors them.
- If I do start to cry, don't worry. You're not doing anything wrong, you're probably doing just the right thing.
- If you're at a loss for words, the best thing to say is "Tell me about him/her." If I'm mourning the loss of someone dear, the opportunity to share what makes them special with someone who never had the chance to know them is profoundly comforting.
- And if words completely fail you, a long, tight hug never will. Nor will cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes.