It is usual to send condolences and to pass on our thoughts and prayers, that is if the Bereaved have a faith, sometimes non believers can feel that if there were a God, this would not have happened, especially when the death is of someone young or in tragic circumstances.
The initial ease of passing on condolences is soon replaced by awkwardness, often centred on “what should I say! Or “how often should I contact” and the most difficult “should I talk about the deceased”. Why do we find it so difficult to talk about death and why is it so difficult to be or feel of any support whatsoever to the people suffering from the Loss.
Death is one of the Human Givens, it has a place in the Existential Philosophies and although it touches us all, Loss, until it is experienced firsthand is one of the most frustrating issues that we are faced with. We all have our own ideas as to whether life goes on in any form, what life after Death means to us as individuals is as different as our notions of what the meaning of life is. All this adds to most people’s unease and the unease manifests itself in getting it wrong.
It happens all the time, in the days after a Loss or Death, the family of the deceased is in everyone’s thoughts, they are visited, sent cards and flowers and a good many people will attend the funeral. At this point, this is where attitudes and behaviours begin to change. Right after the final goodbye, people feel lost and unsure of how to respond to the grieving family.
It is most definitely not because people stop caring, not because they can’t be bothered, so what is it. An individual’s fear of Death is a barrier to associate with it, it is an unconscious response, yet people have an awareness often saying “I should go and see …” note the “should” we have all thought and said it, it is acceptable even to say it to others, but to do it, well we all know how difficult that can be.
So, that’s what it is like for us, or the friends of the Bereaved. What is it like for the person suffering the Loss? Let’s think about it, on top of the Death itself there is the sudden support from family and friends, and then in less than two weeks, it’s all changed, where did everyone go? How lonely that must be, how disappointing and how sad.
How difficult is it to ask a dear friend what it is we can do to help, we all know how difficult it is, the reason we do not ask is that we know what the answer will be. Often we Feel, there is Nothing we can do to help, but is there? What the many people I have spoken to say is that they want and need their friends to Talk, about everyday things, about the deceased person, about their sense of Loss and to just be there, not stay away, not feel panic when they bump into you at the shop or mall, not to be a stranger to them.
It is difficult, mostly because of our own discomfort with Death and Loss, but remember, we will all have to face this at some time, it is in everyone’s interests to change the way we support the Grieving and Bereaved. If we are feeling unsure of what a friend needs. Ask them, if they can’t answer Hug them and show them that you are there for them, a hug needs no words and says a lot more than words can at this time.
I would like to share and dedicate this and the following poem to the memory of Jamie Vayro, his friends and family, especially my dear friend Tracey.
“Life and then wave – like a River”.
It began as a trickle in some obscure wilderness, winding its way through fields and valleys it finds strength and depth and becomes strong. Twisting and turning, trying to find the easiest route, it breathes life into village, town and city, creating life along its banks.
People have a need and a want to be near it, to settle close by. It has become a mighty force, creator of life in itself, it cuts a new path and no longer follows the optimum way, this thing is strong and yet gentle too.
It becomes provider, it is important to whole communities and individuals too. Children love the feel of it on their skin. The two faces of this wondrous living entity combine to make it eternal, as miraculously as the trickle began, it disappears into a new place, where it will go on and on and on, the trickle becomes a wave and it goes on spreading its uniqueness as far as the eye can see. The next time you see or hear a wave, remember it was once a trickle.
By Paul Parkin
Paul, Soon after I came to live in the NE, a neighbour with whom I was acquainted experienced the sudden death of her baby. I was a nurse and midwife and as such was experienced in being with recently bereaved people. I usually walked by this mother’s house on my way to the shops but I chose to walk a different way so as to avoid meeting her, because I had no idea what I could or would would say…. I could think of no words that would be adequate for such an occasion.
On the way back home, my feet followed their usual path and I found myself going by her gate. She was in the garden and turned to greet me.
I offered what I thought were the appropriate words and we talked. She told me about the pain she was feeling, the weight of her sadness and how she and her husband found it difficult to accept comfort from each other. She said she had been trying to put some baby things away but couldn’t bring herself to wash any soiled clothes because they still smelled of her child.
I said we talked; we didn’t, she talked, I listened and then went home and cried and got a meal ready for my two children.
I learned a big, big lesson that day…..
that being with the bereaved and listening at a time that they choose is such a precious thing to do for them. The words you choose to say are almost superfluous. I am so pleased that my steps took me there, on that day, at that moment, so she had someone to listen to her pain, on that day and at that moment, just when she needed someone.
More to follow…