Talking About Grief
I am so privileged, in my role, to be a part of people’s lives when they are vulnerable, when they are grieving. To be able to support and guide them is very rewarding.
When I first make contact with the next of kin I know very little about the person who has died. (I have usually been contacted by a Funeral Director and given the bare minimum of details). My first contact is a telephone conversation. I call as soon as I can, as I know how frustrating it is trying to get everything sorted. I then arrange a date where we can meet up and chat in detail.
Sometimes people are upbeat and efficient on the phone, others are obviously struggling to come to terms with what has happened. I am reassuring and take my lead from my client. Some wish to chat and ask questions, others can’t wait to get off the phone.
The meeting is where I can get a better handle on the situation. I often don’t know how many people I am meeting, what age they are, what relationship they have with the deceased, and I definitely have no idea how they are feeling.
Grief affects people in different ways, and I can absolutely confirm that no two people grieve in the same way. I can also confirm that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. All I would say is we need to be aware that those around us will definitely not be grieving in the same way that we are.
I have heard lots of different angles depending on the reason for the death. If they have been ill for a long time then it is common for people to assume the grieving has already taken place. From my own experience, and watching others, I would disagree. I feel that in this case people grieve in one way before death and in another way after death.
If death is sudden then shock plays a part too. To a degree you can prepare for the expected, but to suddenly have to cope without that person, and all the bureaucracy, can be totally overwhelming.
It saddens me that we don’t talk more about death and grief. We often skirt around, or avoid the subject, and try not to think about it, and yet we all know that by sharing our thoughts we can support each other, and these subjects don’t need to be taboo.
Once we arrive in the world the only guarantee we have is that we will die. We have no control over where or when (unless you choose to go to a Swiss clinic). We prepare for everything else in life, birth, weddings, holidays, parties. We go to great lengths to discuss these events and plan everything to the last detail, and yet we don’t discuss and plan our death and subsequent celebration. If we did then it would give those we leave behind less to do and more freedom to grieve.
It is often the main mourner who has to remain strong for those around them, and therefore they don’t allow themselves time and space to grieve. This can be really hard, and often it hits them harder once the funeral is over.
Grief can manifest itself in so many different ways. Crying (or watering your face, as a lovely friend calls it) is the one we recognise the most, but people can become withdrawn or angry. They may be snappy, or silent, or go into efficiency overdrive, seemingly dealing with everything and not showing any visible signs of sadness.
We really are all different, and grief affects us all in different ways. I don’t believe that you can ever hear that someone you are close to, or care about, has died, without feeling some emotion. We only have to look at the outpouring at the death of Princess Diana to see how grief effects people.
Often, when I meet the next of kin, they are still in the mechanical stage of coping and getting on with things. As they dig deep in their memory banks, as our meeting progresses, then often the floodgates open. If so then I just support them and give them time. We also talk. Talking really does help. They can tell me things in confidence (I am often given background information that will never see the light of day, but puts meat on the bones for me, and assists me in writing a tribute that is a true reflection of the person).
My advise to anyone who is unsure of how to behave around someone who is recently bereaved, is to talk, support and be prepared for them to behave out of character. Don’t skim over the subject, let them know you are there and happy to listen. Try to share some positive memories and funny stories but most of all don’t avoid messaging, calling or visiting them. Now is the time they need you the most.