Talking with Someone Who’s Grieving

13 08 2007

by Kelsey Hough

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Few things make us more uncomfortable than words like “grief,” “loss,” and “death,” so when it comes to dealing with loved ones who are grieving, we don’t know what to do, say, or how to act, and sometimes this ignorance can do horrendous damage to someone already in pain.

While making small talk with some acquaintances, one of the young men in the group, James, tried to mention how his mother is dying, how greatly it’s affecting his entire family, and how hard the stress level and grief has been on him lately.  His friends — who he’s known for several years — suddenly became very awkward and completely tongue-tied.  They began to squirm around in their chairs and franticly glanced at each other as if they were looking for help.

Feeling Uncomfortable

I’m also losing a parent right now, my dad has a fatal illness, and I’m slowly watching him slip away.  I know the heartache, but I don’t have any answers, no cure for the pain. In fact, I hardly even knew James, but I asked questions about how his mom was doing, how his family was holding up, and most importantly, how he was doing.

His friends continued looking around uncomfortably, and when there was the first break in the conversation, one of them jumped in and changed the subject to something more upbeat. Then, in order to avoid further discomfort, they dominated the entire conversation; a regular “one man band.”  They didn’t want to hear about the heavier things James is currently living with, so they avoided having to listen by not giving him the opportunity to talk about it.

Their friend wanted to talk about the hardest thing in his life, and they responded by changing the subject and dominating the conversation because it made them uncomfortable to talk about grief and death. But I’m sure it doesn’t make James feel comfortable to live with the reality his mother is dying.

Just Listen

Some people – even friends — never ask me how my dad is doing, or how I’m coping with things, even though they know what’s happening and they see me on a regular basis.  Maybe people think they’d be reminding me of my pain by mentioning it, but I haven’t forgotten my dad’s dying.  Even if it’s not living in the forefronts of my thoughts at every moment, the knowledge and reality of it is always there.  They don’t ask for fear of reminding me, but since they don’t ask I assume they’re the ones who’ve forgotten.

“I don’t know what to do,” I hear people say when someone they know is grieving. Well, I’ll tell you, take a deep breath, deal with the fact it’s not your favorite subject of conversation, and listen. You’re right, you can’t change the situation, you can’t make it all better, but they know that even better than you do.   Sometimes, they just need to talk, and they need to know you haven’t forgotten.

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