This week seems to have developed the unintentional theme of death. Maybe it’s the death of our family friend, coupled with the anniversary of my dad’s death. Maybe it’s just seeing so many people in bereavement. Whatever it is, I feel compelled to continue on this roll I have stumbled upon. One thing I know about myself is that I know what it feels like to lose, to hurt, to be counted out. Don’t we all? It’s always been my desire to aid others in the process. There have been so many times where I have felt alone and broken. And while I am so thankful to be beyond those spaces, I remember when I wasn’t. That’s one of the reasons why I share so much of myself. I truly believe there is healing in sharing. I don’t think silence serves anyone. As Jane Fonda says, “We are not meant to be perfect. We’re meant to be whole.” And as my father used to say, “We all have a ghetto story.” We all have tales of how we were broken, hurt, lost, confused, etc. My story may not be your story, but in hearing yours, it may just help me get to the next chapter of my own; and vice versa. So that’s where I’m coming from.
I said yesterday that death brings a lot of uncomfortable feelings–and not just for the bereaved. It’s not just uncomfortable to be the one left in pain after a loss. It can also be uncomfortable to witness someone in pain. People tend to be action-oriented. We are all about doing. Witnessing someone’s pain motivates us to want to find the solution for them. However, it can be so difficult that sometimes we want to find the solution for them long distance. What do I mean by this? I mean that sometimes, we don’t actually want to help. We just want the person to feel better so that we can cease to be uncomfortable. When death hits (and it doesn’t have to involve a physical death. It can be the death of a relationship, death of a job, etc.), the bereaved is now changed. They are no longer who they once were prior to this death. We are ok with the initial impact. I mean, it’s to be expected that you are different. That’s one of the reasons everyone gathers immediately after a death. Everyone gathers the day of and leading up to the funeral. They’re calling. Sending flowers. Bringing food. Stopping by. They show up without prompting. It just makes sense. But you know what happens? The funeral comes. There may even be a repast. But it inevitably ends and everyone scatters back home to their normal lives while the bereaved are left to deal alone. This is when the change really hits. And let me just say something about change. Change tends to occur successively, meaning that your change affects me. I will have to adjust accordingly to your change; thereby creating a change in me. A lot of us are resistant to change. So we want you to do whatever you can to get through this so you can go back to being who you were before so that I can go back to being the way I was before. But that’s not really how life works. And deep down we know this. So we want to help. We say we will help. But what happens a lot of time is that we don’t actually help. And we actually put the onus on you to get our help. What does this look like? Thanks for asking. Allow me to paint the picture for you. It goes something like this. “I’m so sorry. If you need anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, don’t hesitate to call.” Do you see? That now puts the responsibility of the bereaved for supporters to actually support.
I heard this a few times when my dad passed away. I also heard it a lot at the funeral I attended over the weekend. I have even said it myself. But what I know today is that it’s such a callous thing to say. You’re basically telling the bereaved that you don’t have any real plans to show up for them beyond this moment. How do I know this? Because I’ve experienced it. I have never felt more alone in my life than I did after my dad passed away. All the people who were committed to being around enjoying benefits when my dad was alive were nowhere to be found for me when my father passed. I’ve said this to a few and they actually implied that it’s my fault that they didn’t offer anything because I didn’t say anything. As far as they are concerned, I seemed fine and if I wasn’t fine, then it was up to me to say so. In another instance, I might actually agree. After all, closed mouths don’t get fed, do they? But I have to disagree here because death is a different game. You see, sometimes people are hurting so much that they don’t even know what they need. They don’t even know to speak up to say Hey, I’m hurting. Sometimes they hurt so much that they retreat, act out, or do their best to numb the pain. Sometimes they don’t want to burden anyone. Their inability to speak up regarding their pain is in no way an admission that it doesn’t exist. It simply means they just are unable to speak up. I think it’s actually unfair for those of us who are not in pain to blame the bereaved for being in pain. We all have had our moment with pain. And if you haven’t, just wait. Your moment will come. Some of us may behave in way that others of us cannot understand. It’s easy to say If it were me, I’d just speak up, when you are not in pain. The truth is, you don’t know what you would do. You don’t know how you will feel. And sometimes, neither does the bereaved. Grief can be such a confusing process and we don’t really give those who are bereaved the time they need to go through it. We expect sadness at the funeral. But we also expect them to dry their eyes and return to normal and that’s so unfair. Stop telling people in bereavement to call you if they need anything. Stop leaving them hanging once the funeral ends. Continue to check on them. Continue to be there for them without prompting. You don’t have to fix it for them because the truth is you can’t. But you can show up. You can support.
After my father died, my cousin would randomly send me bible verses via text. I would never know when they were coming, but they came faithfully for over a year. He actually still sends them to this day. I would cry as I read them. Sometimes I still do. After a while, I began to look forward to them. He didn’t know it at the time, (hell neither did I!), but those text messages helped me so much. That gesture said so much to me and I appreciated it in a way that my words didn’t allow me to say, until about a year ago. Don’t interpret the silence of one in bereavement to mean they’re ok. Don’t be in such a rush to be comfortable that you fail to support. We will all need it at some point in our lives.