Recently, a woman quit her job and filed a lawsuit because her supervisor had directed her to remove mementoes of her deceased daughter from her work area and to stop talking about the young woman to coworkers. The court found for the company and ruled that she had no right to use the coworkers as “grief counselors”. The coworkers were apparently made uncomfortable by her references to her daughter in conversations. In my opinion, the coworkers, the supervisor, and the court are in serious need of education on grieving (and, channeling my grandmother, a serious smack on the side of their heads)!
When someone has suffered a loss, whether bereavement or any other kind, they need to be able to talk about the loss to sympathetic listeners as they attempt to rebuild their life with a part missing. Yet, most of us feel uncomfortable with that because we don’t know what to say that will help. We get caught up in our own psychodrama around grief and we feel helpless. Here’s a news flash: You don’t have to say anything, just listen! The most useful thing you might say to the mourner is, “Tell me about it.”
There is no need for the listener to take on the pain the mourner is feeling; and no, talking about it or mentioning the deceased individual’s name will not cause more pain for the bereaved person. A minority of bereaved in the acute stages of grief takes refuge in prolonged denial, but the vast majority is trying actively to cope and reshape a fractured life. The fact that someone else remembers the loss and the person lost is vitally important for the grieving heart. It becomes especially poignant as time goes on and initial support falls away. A phone call asks, “It’s been a year since (fill in the loved one’s name or relationship) died. How are you holding up?” That call is infinitely precious, and costs the caller nothing but time and compassion.
So, why are we afraid of grief? We’re conditioned by biology to avoid pain and we seem to be afraid that grief will rub off, so to speak. Some of us may feel that they’re being asked to “fix” the pain and are overwhelmed by that perceived responsibility. The truth is, dealing effectively with personal grief strengthens emotional muscles and allows one to share that strength when needed. I would not forgo a minute of my life, pain and disaster included, because it has brought me to this place and time and given me tools I can use to help others. Grief is no fun, but it is an integral part of every life. Learn to deal with it.