Cheryl Giantsios

@cheryl-giantsios | contributor
After the sudden death of her 50 y.o. high-school sweetheart husband from undiagnosed heart disease, Cheryl became an unwanted advocate for grief and the journey of its victims. Although she writes from the perspective of a widow, her honest, heart wrenching and often humorous articles speak to anyone who is grieving a loss. You can follow her blog at www.ManyFacesofCheriG.com and find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/manyfacesofcherig

Practical Ways to Help Grieving Loved Ones

You can find a great deal of advice on what to say and do when someone loses a loved one, so this article may not offer anything new. As someone for whom grieving is still somewhat fresh and ongoing, however, perhaps I can impart a bit of first-hand knowledge about what does (and doesn’t) help me. Here are my eight suggestions about what to do and say (as well as what not to) to help your grieving loved ones: 1. Offer Condolences, Not Advice: That’s it. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” and/or “I’ll pray for you” might be all we need to hear. As well-meaning as it is, having someone say your loved one is “in a better place” or that they “aren’t suffering anymore” can be hurtful, especially in the beginning. All we know in that moment is that we want our loved one back. Sticking with an honest “I’m sorry” is a safer, gentler way to go. We might not want to hear about your great aunt who lost her husband and how it took her 18 years before she got over it. And as much as a pet can be a member of the family, we also might not want to hear a comparison of your pet’s passing to that of our loved one. We might not want advice on the best way to grieve or insight on how long it should take. We just want to know someone is thinking of us. 2. Withhold Judgment: Understand that grief is a personal, individual thing. Some people put it all out there and tell everyone they come into contact with about their loss. Some people need people to understand why they’re walking around like a zombie. Others choose to keep things more private and hold back from public displays of grief. There is no “right way” to mourn. Allow each person the space they need to grieve, but be there to support them in whatever way they need without judgment. This is their grief, not yours. 3. Offer Specific, Concrete Help: It can be difficult for someone who is grieving to hear “let me know if you need something” for several reasons. First of all, in that moment, sometimes we just don’t know we even need something. In the early days and weeks, there is a period of absolute numbness and shock and we often don’t know exactly what our needs are. Rather, ask specific questions, ones that can’t really be answered with a “no” — “Can I take your kids out for dinner on Thursday or Friday?” “I’m going to the grocery store. Would you like to come with me, or should I just pick up some food for you?” “When would you like me to feed your pets?” “Would it help if I arranged for someone to clean your house?” Secondly, in some ways, our brains are not functioning as they usually are, and direct, pointed questions help us not to have to think so hard. Finally, we may not be comfortable accepting help, especially if we have been fairly independent for a long time. 4. Simply Help Without Asking: Some people have difficulty asking for (or accepting) help. If you see that the yard needs to be mowed, or the driveway shoveled, or the mail just keeps piling up, I suggest taking the initiative. Mow it, shovel it or bring it inside. If you ask “may I,” you might get a negative response. So one option is to do those small, impersonal tasks you know need to be done without asking. Even if we don’t seem appreciative, we are. 5. Take Our Cues: Much as you deal with animals and small children, you often have to take cues from a grieving person. There are good days, bad days and everything in between. Sometimes our ability to interact with people changes from moment to moment. If we seem to be uncomfortable discussing the one we’ve lost at a particular moment, it’s OK to say, “Let’s talk about something else.” There have been moments where I’ve been barely holding it together and when someone shows a moment of kindness, I break down. That may be OK in our home or someone else’s, but some of us don’t want to have a crying jag in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. 6. Don’t Take Offense: Understand that our emotional distance isn’t personal. One thing I’ve found is that sometimes I’m rude without meaning to be. It may not occur to me at that moment, but later on when I’m replaying a conversation or an exchange in my head, I become upset with myself because I may have come across as disrespectful. I have occasionally walked away mid-conversation without saying a word and not realized it until later. Honestly, we may be just so deep in our own grief that even common courtesies are a struggle. Know this and understand it isn’t personal. 7. Listen: Some of the most helpful people have been those who simply asked an open-ended question and then just sat back and listened. Sometimes we may talk about something specific we miss about our loved one, sometimes we want to cry about the unfairness of it all, and sometimes we want to discuss something trivial. If we’re talking about something inconsequential, it may be because we just need to take a mental break. By discussing some trivial matters, we are giving our grief a temporary respite. (Note that if you believe someone may be ignoring their grief completely, that could be something entirely different and may require professional help.) 8. Just Be: Sometimes we just want you to sit with us and not say a word. A hug, a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on — each of these can be healing in its own way. It is helpful to know we have a strong support system, even if they can only be a safety net rather than a safety harness. Just knowing someone is there to catch us if we fall is sometimes all we really need. Thank you to my support system, those of you who have done without asking, who continue to stand by me, who have listened to me complain and whine and cry, those who check in with me every day or nearly every day just to see how I’m doing, and those who have provided hugs, rubbed my back, or offered to hold me and rock me all night. You are appreciated and loved. © 2016 Many Faces of Cheri G All Rights Reserved We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock image by sanjagrujic

Why It's Important to Talk About Grief

Grief is still kept behind the darkened curtains most of the time, despite the fact that it will touch almost everyone’s life at one point or another – several times over if you’re fortunate enough to love so much and so many. But it seems to me that many people fear that grief is contagious, and they’d like to avoid it at all costs. To some degree, the hesitation to be around (or in some cases, even acknowledge) a griever is understandable. If you’re close to the person, it’s painfully difficult to watch them hurting and not be entirely sure what you can do to help. It’s often emotionally taxing to feel powerless in even knowing what to say. To that end, here are a few pointers. If the deceased loved one was young, especially, the death could be raising questions of one’s own timing. I believe this played a factor in my husband’s passing. Having just turned 50 and of seemingly good health, friends and family began to question their own mortality as well as those of their own spouses. People are often afraid to bring up one’s deceased loved one, thinking it might open up raw wounds. So they don’t say anything, in an effort to spare the griever. Guess what? We’re thinking of them anyway. Whether or not you mention them, they are on our minds. All. The. Time. My best advice about this is to take your cues from the grieving. If you bring up their loved one and they begin to struggle, simply ask, “Is this too hard for you to talk about right now?” Some of us (me, included) want to talk, even through the pain. In my case, it’s really comforting to know his loss is felt by someone else. And then I may need a break from it and will ask to focus on something happier or more mindless. Others may not be ready yet, or they may simply grieve more internally, or they are on their way somewhere and don’t want to talk about it right at that moment. But really, the choice needs to be our own. But if widow/ers feel they cannot be open about their grieving for fear of upsetting or offending someone, and society in general doesn’t like to talk about grief, preferring instead to live in a grief-free bubble as much as possible, how are we ever to remove this societal taboo? The answer lies in talking about it. And witnessing it. And seeing grief in all its ugly “glory.” We, as widow/ers, must be brave enough to show the world what grief looks like. We as a community must allow widow/ers to put on whatever face of grief they need to, knowing that not only can it change day to day, it can literally change minute to minute! So what does the “real face of grief” look like? Of course there will be sadness and pain. Naturally there might be anger. There will likely be guilt or loneliness or confusion or a deep hole of nothingness. But there can also be joy in remembering the special moments shared with the person s/he lost. There can be laughter in humorous memories. There can be peace in knowing a loved one isn’t in pain any longer. There can be all of these emotions. Most importantly, through it all, there will be a shared love. The connection we felt with the person closest to us. It is because of this love that we are grieving in the first place. The loss of this person leaves a gaping hole. There are times I can still feel his presence with me (and times I would swear he is putting thoughts in my head, and little messages I pass along to my children prefacing it by saying “Daddy wants me to tell you this.” (It’s as if I have evolved into Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost,” becoming a voice for my husband, often just to be the deliverer of a “Dad joke.”) So whether you find me lost in thought, or smiling, or laughing, or tearing up, or blubbering, or wandering around like a zombie, I am grieving. Sometimes it hurts less than other times, but it is still there. And I want to talk about it. Until I don’t. It’s all part of the process. But it should be an open process. I (and others like me) shouldn’t have to feel that we have to hold back because it will bother someone else. What it all boils down to is that I apologize if you are one of those “lucky” ones who gets to hear me talk about my husband. All. The. Time. I regret those I make uncomfortable to the point they’d rather be anywhere else. I’m sorry that my pain is difficult for some of you to see. But mostly, I am heartbroken that there are far too many people still trying to hide grief and the grieving in the shadows where it really has no place being. To paraphrase another Patrick Swayze film, “Nobody should put grief in the corner!” The dark is where it festers and grows so large that it overwhelms those dealing with it, who often shrivel away for lack of light. The shadows are where the demons hide, more than happy to pull me down into the depths. So let’s rid ourselves of this last taboo subject. Let’s talk about grief more openly, both as the grieving and as those who love someone who is. If you see my ugly-crying, it’s OK to comfort me the best you can — in fact, it’s welcomed and appreciated. Just don’t mention how bad I look. Let’s make that a taboo subject. © 2017 Many Faces of Cheri G All Rights Reserved Note: Before I became a widow, I admit that I was often at a loss of what to say to someone in this situation. I, too, was guilty of avoiding talking about someone’s loved one because I didn’t want to cause them any more hurt or because listening to their stories was awkward; I simply didn’t know what to do or say. I was just as culpable of adding to the taboo surrounding grief. But now I have an opportunity to raise awareness and that’s what I’m going to do. Having an inside view, I can tell you that it’s ugly and lonely in here, and we shouldn’t be doing this alone. And we shouldn’t be hiding it away. We need to bring it out into the light where it can be accepted by everyone (even when it isn’t welcomed). Follow this journey on Many Faces of Cheri G. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Photo credit: Myndi B Photography

365 Days of Healing: What I Learned in One Year of Grief

It seems that everyone feels they know about grief. Everyone has a story to tell, or advice to dispense. Many people do know about grief, but yet, it’s a very personal thing. The information I’m about to provide may help you. It may allow you to understand a loved one just a bit more. Or it may make absolutely no sense to you, as your grief just isn’t the same. Yet, I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned about grief in this past year. Things I wish someone had told me, or more likely, things I would have told myself had I had the opportunity. Some of these things, I learned through trial and error, while others I seemed to know instinctively. This is my story, my experience. Use it as you will, but I hope with it you can glean just a bit of insight into the sordid underbelly of grieving. If I had been able to impart wisdom to myself when this journey had begun, this is what I would have said to me: Dear Cheri: It’s not what you wanted, and it’s certainly not what you planned, but you are now a widow. This will be a very emotional, difficult time for you, and although you’ll have help and support, you really must go it alone. This journey is yours and yours alone, so only you will really know what steps you need to take. These are some of the things you need to know to make it just a little bit “easier”: Be Kind to Yourself – First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. If you’re not eating, eat. If you’re not sleeping, try to rest where you can. If you’re finding life too demanding, take a break. If Saturday rolls around and you’ve got piles of dirty laundry and really should go to the grocery store, but all you feel like doing is eating Cocoa Pebbles in bed while watching “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix, grab the remote, hunker down and don’t feel guilty about it. Tackle what you can when you can. Be Kind to Others – Grief is difficult, and many people just don’t get it. It is messy, and raw, and ugly. There will be people who want to help, but don’t know how. There will be people who will push you to grieve faster, or more efficiently. There will be those who believe you aren’t grieving hard enough or taking the necessary time to do it properly. And there will be those who truly allow you to use them as support as you see fit, the ones who understand that the best they can do is simply be there for you, the friends who aren’t arrogant enough to believe they can – or should – advise you. Try to understand that most people really are trying to help, but they just (thankfully) haven’t been here yet. Be patient with them, and be ready to support them if and when their time comes. Your Memory Is Going to Suck – There is a common syndrome referred to as “widow’s fog.” It’s real. You will buy groceries you don’t need and forget the ones you do, until your cupboard is filled with six jars of mayonnaise and no ketchup. You will wander through several months without knowing what you did a week, a day, even an hour before. You will look back on this time as though through a haze, and will still only remember parts of everything. This is why you should… Carry a Notebook Everywhere – Use it for grocery lists, reminders of appointments and to-do’s, the memories that randomly appear, and anything else that may crop up. Even when you think you’ll remember, and despite repeating something a dozen or more times to help you do so, you’re probably going to forget. It’s frustrating, but it’s normal. Just carry the notebook. Don’t Throw Anything Away Yet – Due to Widow’s Fog (See #3) you will try to get rid of things you see as “junk.” A random scrap of paper in A’s handwriting, those shorts that were so worn that he looked like Robinson Crusoe, or a bag of old golf balls. When the fog wears off, you’ll wonder why you got rid of these things. Unless what you’re throwing away is absolutely, positively junk, put it aside to go through when you’re better able to make the decision. By that same token… Don’t Wash A’s Clothes Right Away – There will come a time when it will be necessary to wash his dirty clothes, perhaps sooner rather than later, but try to keep at least one shirt he has worn (as creepy as that may sound) just to remember the smell of him. Try to preserve his scent because you’ll want to remember – often, at first, then just occasionally, and finally, only during really trying times. You’ll sometimes spritz yourself with his cologne, and if it comforts you, do it. As long as you’re not endangering your health, and it’s reassuring to you, do what feels right. Your Health Will Suffer – Despite being of relatively good health, you will now be susceptible to every cold and minor illness known to man. Your immune system will be at its lowest point due to all the stress you are about to undergo. Grief will take its toll on both your physical and mental health. Understand that, prepare for it, and take care of yourself when it happens (See #1). Be With People in Public – As tempting as it might be to want to hide out from the world, you are going to have to learn to live your life without your husband by your side. Whether or not you’re actually with others, just being out and about with other humans around is helpful. Reading a book in the corner at Starbucks while customers wander in and out with their Triple Venti Soy No Foam Lattes serves to remind you that the world did not end when yours shattered, despite how you feel right now. Hearing a child’s laughter is sometimes a major pick-me-up. People watching can be an amusing pastime and may enable you to smile or laugh for a moment or two. The point is, to try to move forward (which you’ll learn is a very different thing from moving on), no matter how difficult it may be… Until It Becomes Too Much – As important as it is to get out and start doing things on your own, becoming comfortable being out as an individual rather than half of a couple, doing so will also make you feel off-balance and exposed. You will feel vulnerable in a way you haven’t for a long time (if ever), and you will eventually need to retreat for awhile. This is OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. Just having been out there long enough to have had enough means that you have challenged yourself and you are making progress. Try New Things – You need to learn who you are as an individual. If you are really to heal and grow, you cannot do so by hiding out at home. You have to venture into the world sometime (See #8). Step out of your comfort zone. Do things you’ve never tried before. Take chances – small, safe ones, at first. If those work out well, push a little further. Taking risks doesn’t mean engaging in risky behavior. Try new things, but be smart about it. People Will Abandon You (or at least it seems that way) – When the dust settles, the flowers fade, and the last of the casserole-wielding grief army has retreated, remember that people are going back to their own lives. Just because they don’t have as much time for you anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of you just as often. But there will also be those who won’t think of you, or who are overwhelmed and find it difficult to be around someone who reminds them of their own loss. Remember the old adage about people who are in your lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime and just know that if they do abandon you, it simply means their season has passed. Don’t hold grudges. But… You’ll Make New Friendships (if you allow yourself to) – You will suddenly have this strange connection with others in a similar situation to yours. You will find and relate to other widows and widowers. No matter how they might have lost their significant other, they are truly the only people who understand just what you might be going through. You can commiserate, vent, and pour your heart out to these individuals without fear of judgment or retribution. Then, too, when you begin to go out in public, and especially when you begin the process of learning who you are solo (See #10), you will meet new people and forge new friendships. Allow this to happen without feeling that you are trying to fill the void in your life. New friends are not intended to be a replacement for what you’ve lost. Feel Everything – The biggest gift you can give yourself is to feel. As much as you will want to hide out from the world, and as difficult and painful as this time will be, you must “feel to heal.” Much like coming back from an injury, if you don’t make an effort to push yourself, you can’t move forward. You will struggle. You will hurt. You will absolutely hate the heart-wrenching sadness and anger and guilt you are forcing yourself to acknowledge and deal with. Do it anyway. And Don’t Feel Guilty About It – You will also have moments of joy and excitement and laughter and days that are better than others, especially as time passes. Feel these emotions, too, without judgment. Just as others don’t have the right to tell you that you’re grieving improperly, so too should you understand that you are the one going through it, and it’s perfectly acceptable to have feelings other than grief or sadness. Allow the pleasure as well as the pain, no matter what anyone else may think. It’s all part of the healing process. Finally… You Are Stronger Than You Know – Although when all of this starts, you can’t imagine how you’ll get through the next day or even the next hour, you have made it through a year. A year of challenges, a year of new experiences, a year of discovering who you are as an individual again. You have shattered, but you haven’t been broken. You have experienced pain like you’ve never known, but you have kept going. You have learned that it is possible to lose half of your heart and your whole world without losing yourself in the process. And you now know that you are a survivor. But It’s OK When You Aren’t – With all of this being said, despite your ability to be strong (and the necessity to do so), it’s also acceptable to have moments when you just simply cannot be strong for a second longer. Give in to those moments. Cry the tears that will cleanse the pain. Break down so you won’t break completely apart. These moments can be cathartic and restorative and necessary. Just don’t stay there. If all of this advice could be summed up in a nutshell, it would be simply that whatever you are feeling, as long as it is genuine, is perfectly normal, and although it may not seem like it now, you will make it through. xoxo,Me © 2017 Many Faces of Cheri G All Rights Reserved Follow this journey on Many Faces of Cheri G. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.