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Breaking Sad: What to Say After Loss, What Not to Say, and When to Just Show Up

Breaking Sad: What to Say After Loss, What Not to Say, and When to Just Show Up

by Shelly Fisher, Jennifer Jones


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When someone loses someone or something they love, there’s no cookie-cutter, one-size fits all “fix” that will magically take their pain away. Each person grieves, heals, and processes trials and tribulations differently. In Breaking Sad, Shelly Fisher and Jennifer Jones explore everything from the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, and the loss of health, delving into personal experiences from people on the other side of all of our good intentions to share some insight regarding the questions we’re unable to ask: How do I help? Is it better to say nothing? Should I share what my experience was like? The pages of this book are lined with real stories and real feedback to those questions and more. Amongst our many differences lies a similar need for understanding, comfort, and support; Breaking Sad is the start of the conversation that will get us all to a place where we can offer these things to people when they need it most.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631522420
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Shelly Fisher is a graduate of Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Communications, with a minor in psychology. She also holds a master’s degree in education from UNC Chapel Hill. While in Chapel Hill she manned a twenty-four-hour crisis intervention line, laying the foundation for her interest in helping others in need and giving back to the community. She is a Philadelphia native and has led multiple small businesses in the area, along with serving on the boards for several educational and charitable organizations. She has been happily married for over thirty years and has three children, three dogs, and a bird.

Jennifer Jones graduated from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia with a BA in communications with a concentration in journalism and professional writing. She spent time in the field during school doing freelance work for local papers and blogs. After college, she found her passion in creative nonfiction, short essays, and songwriting. She and her partner currently reside in Philadelphia, PA.

Read an Excerpt


New Loss

Excuses, Excuses

| Johnny Crowder |

I know you said you didn't want me stopping by every day and that I needed to move on, but I had to come visit today because I wrote you another letter and bought you some new flowers and I didn't want them to sit at my house and, besides, I missed you.

Tomorrow I probably won't have time anyway, which is good because I need to take a break like you said and besides I have a ton of work to do and I've been spending so much on gas just to get out there every day, so hopefully tomorrow will be day one of "moving on."

That isn't to say that I don't want to see you tomorrow because I do, I really do, but I'm trying to do what you said, because I know you wouldn't want me living like this, but it's just that it's so hard to go a whole day without seeing you, but I have to get used to it I guess, because I can't spend my whole life standing at your headstone wishing I was sleeping next to you.

Best thing someone did or said:

Someone told me that death is a relief, a release of pain. It calmed me to think that a passing soul experiences peace following death.

Worst thing someone did or said:

Someone offered only these words: "Life goes on." It was so insensitive. Tough love doesn't work in situations like this.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

* The lines of communication with a loved one are never closed off or blocked.

* The loss of a physical body does not constitute the loss of a soul.

* You can always talk to your friends and family. Reach out and you will be heard.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

* Help them understand that love is eternal. It knows no boundaries or limitations.

* Be delicate and gentle, letting them know that they are not alone during this time, and they never will be.

* When it comes to healing, a sound support system can make all the difference. Just being there for someone in their time of need is paramount.

Day One

| Nikki Cee |

The nurse switched off the machines and retreated to the corner. Mum's stoic heart kept beating on the screen above Dad's head. Twice in the last two weeks we'd heard the alarm go off. Twice that jagged line had gone flat. Twice the room had filled with pastel-wrapped angels, bustling over her with wires and tubes and needles and solemn efficiency. More than twice we'd all been pushed aside so they could be heroes and we could be helpless.

Now we could draw near and wait for the alarm. This time, they wouldn't come. This time, it would be the end for them and the beginning for us. Dad held her left hand in his and fingered her gold band. After a long stretch, all of us so transfixed by our own pain that we could offer no comfort to each other, he began to speak — just to her. The hospital, with all its smells and noises and hope, fell away and his quiet, tear-stained words crawled into the silence. " ... to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish ..."

And when the machine could bear no more, it conceded, "... till death do us part."

For mum, 2011 and every day since

Best thing someone did or said:

I dreaded anyone asking me how I was. How do you answer that? The most comfortable people to be around were those who said very little, judged even less, and listened when I was ready to speak. An aunt whom I wasn't especially close to filled this role. She didn't offer advice or burden me with her grief, but her quiet strength made me feel less alone.

Worst thing someone did or said:

People say all sorts of bizarre things, but you take in what is good and try to dismiss the rest. It was my own reflection while dressing for my mother's funeral that caught me unawares. One minute, I was a little girl sitting on the end of the bed waiting for Mummy to buckle my shoes. The next minute, I was trying to apply make-up to a face that was growing into that of my mother.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

* It's okay to keep talking to the person who has died. Sometimes it feels like the only sane thing to do.

* We all deal with grief differently, so forgive others who may handle it differently than you.

* It does get easier; hang in there.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

* Show that you care without handing out unsolicited advice. If you need to vent, find someone who is removed from the grief.

* People can eat only so much meatloaf. Ask someone close to the grieving family what sort of meals they'd like.

Ashes to Ashes

| Jennifer Gerry |

Today my brothers, stepmother, and I submitted my father's ashes to be interred. We arrived at the cemetery reserved for military vets, dressed in the last of our mourning attire, and handed the urn to what appeared to be a maintenance worker. He climbed a small ladder, placing my father almost out of our reach, and I teared up as the door of the small niche closed. Everything happened so suddenly. Sickness. Death. Service. In no time at all, he joined his brethren in this large wall ... Final. At least it seemed final, but then I noticed something. The plaque to inform all others of this niche was missing. In fact, many of the placards were temporary, each niche awaiting their seal. Relief. This process was not yet over.

My father's death came quickly. His exit was gracious and clean, and he left us with nothing but good memories and love. He was, however, the sun to our solar system, and it was difficult losing that. As time passes, no one is spinning out into space. There's no crashing ... no burning. His warmth is still there and our planets continue to orbit as they did before.

This process reminded me that we are all on a nonstop trajectory. Sometimes, we are barely hanging on; other times, we pull forward to distance ourselves from the past. We ever engage in routines and rituals that mask our heartaches — a game for which there is no end — only slowly developing glimpses of new beginnings.

Dedicated to William Gerry

Best thing someone did or said:

For the analytic mind, idle time only leads to intense contemplation. The best thing someone did for me during this process was provide me with a specific task: Create a chronology of my father's life through photographs. In the collection and arrangement of these photos, I had some purpose and I grew to know him better.

Worst thing someone did or said:

It's tough to identify a worst thing someone did or said. All acts of condolence, be they aligned with your grieving process or not, come from a place of pure intention. The most difficult one for me to stomach was people's unsolicited interpretations about my relationship with my father. For instance, I was woeful that we didn't get enough opportunities to know each other or to better understand what motivated our actions. A seemingly appropriate response was to provide insight into what he probably thought. For me, this felt intrusive. How could anyone know the inner workings of our relationship? These comments perturbed me and stopped me from sharing further. Everyone is different, though. Condolences I found particularly difficult to swallow may provide comfort for others.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

One of my brothers gave me some interesting and helpful advice: let friends, spouses, and significant others share in your experience. Even if you prefer to grieve in solitude, allow others to speak their words of empathy, condolence, and sorrow. While it may seem like a bitter pill, you may find yourself surprised and bolstered by their words and perspectives.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

If you are waiting for the grieving to say that they need you, they probably won't. Make food, watch TV, and just be there to fill the idle time.

An Acute Sense of Loss

| Micky Z. |

Some of them told me: "Be strong"

Others assured me: "She's in a better place"

I often heard: "At least she's not suffering anymore"

There was no shortage of: "She wouldn't want you to be so sad"

The less patient wonder when and if I'll "move on"

No one told me ... that my heart would feel so heavy

No one warned me ... that even the good times would feel a little empty

No one properly explained ... that almost anything could retrigger the sorrow

No one shared the reality ... that grief is forever

And my Mom, the one person I most need to talk with about this ... is the person I'm mourning

In memory of Mom

Best thing someone did or said:

I was given a book about the grieving process — a workbook of sorts — that helped me to see more clearly how death is perceived within our culture.

Worst thing someone did or said:

I wouldn't say it was "the worst," but the almost robotic repetition of standard condolences grew wearying.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

* Don't feign strength you don't feel.

* Allow yourself to process the grief in any way that feels appropriate for you, and for as long as it takes.

* Be ready to forgive lots of well-meaning, but not very helpful comments.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

* Don't assume you know what a grieving person is feeling.

* Ask how you can help.

* Be present.


| Judy Chaikin |

If time is kind The streets where we walked Will all be turned into freeways The stores where we shopped Will be closed for good The house where we lived Will be torn down.

If time is cruel Everything will stay The same And everywhere I will be reminded Of you.

In memory of my husband, Jules

Best thing someone did or said:

Held me, hugged me, reminded me of the good times.

Worst thing someone did or said:

"It doesn't matter what he wanted ... he should have been buried, not cremated."

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

Don't make any big decisions for at least a year.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

Give lots of hugs. The warm human connection is what is lost.

Teal is the Color of Loss | Jaime Herndon |

I called my dead aunt's cell phone. Her numbers are still in my contact list, and I figured I'd call and see what happened. I don't know what I was expecting, but I tapped the screen and it started to ring. A man with a Spanish accent picked up, and I actually asked if Edith Rose was there, and he said I had the wrong number. Like she never existed.

In memory of Edith Rose Dawson

Best thing someone did or said:

They simply sent texts or emails telling me they were available to talk if I needed them. I couldn't call people during the period my aunt was dying from ovarian cancer, or after her death because of the emotional energy it took. Texts and emails were best, and I appreciated them.

Worst thing someone did or said:

Distanced themselves from me.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

Grief is exhausting. Be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, and get lots of rest.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

* Do things for them, unasked, like bring them coffee or ice cream or something they like.

* Reach out and let them know you're there.

* Don't be upset or take it personally if they don't respond.

Rolling Credits | Laura Martin |

For the past seven months
The story sometimes is A two-hour piece, presented In cinematic gild Climaxes never being false Or unsatisfying

But they often are, or were,
More often than not the story If that's what it is Is told as how it seemed when trying To look back

Discombobulated, disjointed, displaced Time oozing or skipping But never moving at a pace Easy to manage Or explain

And then it is told In the last narrative that is the hardest For most listeners to grasp, so I don't Often tell it like this

It is one day, not even One full day, from wake ups to Lay downs, where the images loop Without cutting on the same day Shot of the eyes opening And shutting

And in between the same steps The autopilot woman Or girl, with a woman's face Or woman, with a girl's fear Going through the motions Of that one day, over and over

The loop does not cease Until the heart, which the tumor drains slowly,
In memory of my mother, Debra Martin

Best thing someone did or said:

Being there for me when I didn't ask.

Worst thing someone did or said:

Trying to tell me their own story of their mom or dad passing or telling me they understood how I was feeling. Or saying that they would be there in a second if I needed them, and then not showing up.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

You really have to rely on yourself, but do not shut out everyone around you. It will only hurt you in the long run.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

Do not think that my ability to move on with my life means that it does not still pain me every day to think of her.

Making Merry without Mary

| Katherine Tomlinson |

My sister died last year, but the pain of her loss is a wound only freshly healed over. Beneath the new pink skin is tender flesh, filled with nerve endings firing at random. The ache isn't constant, but comes unexpectedly, triggered by the most innocuous things. The scent of peppermint. The taste of salty caramel. A glimpse of Miracle on 34th Street while clicking through to the news.

My sister loved Christmas. I loved my sister. The two feelings are now inextricably twined.

In memory of Mary Beth Tomlinson

Best thing someone did or said:

A friend gave me a gift certificate for a massage, and it was just what I needed.

Worst thing someone did or said:

I was making phone calls to the people in my sister's address book, and I got to one of her friends whom I also knew. When I told him that Mary had died, he launched into an account of some argument he'd been having with her and how it had made him feel. I'm usually a pretty patient person, but I just wanted to smack him.

Advice for someone going through a similar experience:

* While dwelling isn't productive, don't bury your feelings. Talk them out or write them down.

* Avoid the temptation to burrow into your shell and deal with your grief by yourself.

* At the same time, don't let yourself get sucked into a vortex of negative energy. You may have friends (I know I do) who can't stop poking bruises to see if they still hurt. "How are you?" a friend would ask, face scrunched up with concern. Even if the answer might have been, "Fine," a minute ago, I would feel my mood plummet.

* Eat more protein than usual because it will help curb the impulse to eat a lot of sugar. (I stuffed down my feelings and gained nearly thirty pounds before I snapped out of it.)

* Be kind to yourself. It's okay to be sad.

Advice for those surrounding the bereaved:

* Do not say, "Sorry for your loss." That's the default expression of sympathy that all the cops and EMTs use. While I believe it's sincere, if perfunctory, I remember thinking, as I heard it for the billionth time, "I will never, ever, ever say this."

* Offer practical help. Sorrow can be paralyzing, and there are always things that need to be done. But don't say, "Is there something I can do?" A vague offer like that is likely to meet with, "No, I'm fine." Instead, be specific. "Do you need a ride to the funeral home?" "Do you want me to take stuff to Goodwill?" "Can I help you clean out his apartment?" Offer options.

* A grieving person is going through so many emotions. Let them talk.

The Littlest Things

| Rohini Venkatraman |

Now that my grandma's gone, it's the little things I remember most vividly. Nine years ago, for instance, I remember standing outside my college bookstore, staring at my phone. My grandma had just undergone surgery to remove a cancerous lump in her breast. I wanted to call her, but didn't know what to say. After practicing various conversations in my head, I finally dialed the number.


Excerpted from "Breaking Sad"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Shelly Fisher and Jen Jones.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

I New Loss 1

II Sudden Loss 29

III Loss With Time for a Good-bye 67

IV Loss at a Tender Age 83

V Persistent Loss 103

VI Complicated Loss 127

VII Unacknowledged Loss 147

VIII Other Kinds of Loss 161

IX Loss and Time 193

Takeaways 219

Epilogue: One for the Road 229

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