When a person we love dies, our friends and family surround us, offer us comfort, and pledge to do anything we ever need to get through the dark period. They laugh and cry with us as we remember the happy stories of the loved one we've lost, they put their arms around our shoulders and bring us meals because we're too weak ourselves to cook, and they assure us that they are praying for us at their own home churches too. They come to the funeral, they pay their respects one last time, and then they go home. They have their own lives too, and life doesn't stop for the living.
But what's rarely acknowledged, or even realized, is that the for the bereaved, the funeral is just the beginning of grief. The funeral is easy. Everyone knows how to behave and how to talk to a funeral. We are not nearly as good at dealing with what comes after the funeral, when the grief settles in like an unwelcome guest.
These days, it's hard to even notice that people around us are grieving. Gone are the days when rigid societal rules dictated how long grief would last, and when grief would be made obvious by the color of our clothes or of the drapes in the parlor. Sadly, also gone is our understanding that grief goes on not for weeks or months, but for years.
For we the grieving, it is not a temporary feeling but rather a semi-permanent state. It becomes a fact of who we are, which in turn becomes even more difficult in the face of a society that sometimes seems to believe that death and grief are not to be discussed any more than absolutely necessary. This leaves us feeling that our loved ones are best left unmentioned – or, worse, unremembered.
This is the worst of things. We want to talk about our loved ones! And not in the hushed or reverent tones best used for Saints, but in the messy tones of human feeling. We want to laugh anew at the happy stories, and we want to admit the things they did that made us so angry we could scream. We want to hear their names spoken. To know that they are still remembered, that their lives touched someone and continue to do so, is the best antidote to the sadness of grief.
So please, don't avoid mentioning our loved ones for fear of unnecessarily reminding us of pain and anguish. Grief is not a wound we must forever fear re-opening.
And when we do cry, know that it is normal and natural. Put an arm around us and cry with us, in silence even; hugs given in silence are among the most underrated things we can do for one another. Don't feel that you have to know the perfect thing to say, and don't feel that you have to openly admit the inadequacy of the words that you do say. You can send a “Thinking of You” card with nothing more than just your signature inside.
Grief is probably the most burdensome of human emotions. But like all burdens, it is most easily borne when shared; and shared, it need not even be a burden at all.
End of sermon.
* You'd be surprised how often I write a post only to have my Inner Editor send me a nicely-phrased rejection letter.