Thursday, May 24, 2007


Why is grief so hard for us to talk about? Society has expectations on grief and, in my opinion, those expecations are unfair. People think there are certain ways to grieve and if the person left behind does not subscribe to those, something is wrong and that person aught to be ashamed of themselves. I read a very intriguing essay in Newsweek this week where the writer lost her father and the things people said to her. She talks about how all she needs to hear are the words, "I'm sorry." And how many people focused on how lucky she should feel that she got to spend the final moments with him or that he's in a better place.

I know I'm guilty of trying to focus on the positive. Dealing with grief is not something many people know how to do and do well. There is no course in school, no lesson from parents, etc on how to offer condolensces. And we have to as a society understand there is no timeline for grief, no prescribed behaviors for grief. And that it's okay for people to grief in public. Somehow many think grieving should be a private matter, and that is a disservice to the greiving person who could use support.

I think it's more difficult when a parent loses a child, or a friend loses her partner at a young age. We know that when we get old we will eventually die. That is a given, and the idea of dying is uncomfortable for some. But it's not fair to ignore or criticize someone for their actions when they lose someone. How should a mother act when her child dies? How long should she grieve? What about the husband who loses a wife and is left with unfulfilled promises of a life together and possibly a family to raise by himself. No one can answer those questions except for the people who are left behind.

Say "I'm so sorry for your loss." And stop there. Sometimes not saying anything at all beyond that is the best way to simply be there for a friend or family member. Be mindful of what the person is going through. They just lost a loved one, possibly someone they never thought they'd have to lose this early. Death is painful for all who are touched by it. And it's okay for them to cry, to scream, to sit silently, to do whatever they need to do. If they need to talk, then listen. It may be awkward for you, but hey what's a little awkwardness compared to the loss the person is feeling.

People should be able to remain sorrowful as long as they need to. It's difficult to watch another's suffering, but let them mourn the loss of their loved one.


Jen said...

Denise, this is so very insightful. I'd like to add my 2 cents if you don't mind. If you knew the person who passed, it is often time comforting to tell the grieving that you will never forget their friend or loved one. This can sometimes be of comfort because then the memory of the person who passed lives on.

~Denise~ said...

I completely agree Jen.

Also, it was so special to me to hear stories about my grandfather when he passed. Don't be afraid to mention your favorite memory of that person. My girlfriend's father passed away in 2003. The last time I saw him was at the hospital after she had given birth and my last look into the room was him holding his newest grandchild. I never shared that with her until last year when we were discussing him. I'm not sure why it never was brought up before, but she appreciated the memory I had.