“Is it okay to talk about someone who has died? My nephew passed away a few months ago and I miss him. I want to know if it’s okay to talk about him with his mother, my sister? I want to let her know that I miss him and share a few memories. What do you think, would that be okay?”
My immediate response was, “Yes, of course you can talk about him” and as I heard myself speak I added, “but that’s me and everyone is different.” “It depends on how your sister feels.”
I suggested that she could mention her nephew and that she was thinking about him, giving her sister a chance to respond. “This may open up an opportunity to share each other’s feelings, emotions and even a few memories” I explained.
However, if her sister seemed closed to talking further, then be content that you let her know you were thinking about him, and graciously leave it at that.
It’s funny how uncomfortable people feel about taking about death. We want to share our emotions and extend our sympathies, yet for so many of us, that conversation is awkward.
From my point of view, I welcome any conversation about my loved ones who are no longer here. It gives me a chance to share memories and it brings me comfort to reflect on the lives of people who brought so much to my life. It’s good to know that my loved ones are remembered by others.
I won’t deny that no matter how long a person has been gone, I still have moments where I shed a tear or have the occasional uncontrollable sob. To me, that’s okay; it’s life.
I guess part of the discomfort for people is that when we express our emotions to others, we become vulnerable. All of a sudden, our feelings are out there and we’re not sure how the other person will answer back. I think we also fear that we may stir up sadness for the person who is mourning a loss. “Oh great, now I have them crying.” And then what?
My response to that grieving is a normal process, filled with so many emotions and most likely, the extent of your conversation may depend upon the closeness of your relationship. A simple, “I am thinking about you” is what we might say to an acquaintance or someone we know but don’t necessarily have a close relationship.
For people with whom we are more intimate and familiar, the discussion will be a bit deeper. For those situations, you can provide a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. If you are worried about your friend’s emotions or that they may be depressed, and if you have a trusting relationship, it’s okay to let them know that you are concerned. Remember, it isn’t your responsibility to fix their emotions, you are there to support.
About a month after Eric passed away, I received an email from another parent. In her message, she expressed that her son, who had an intellectual disability, was causing her some stress. She then proceeded by very bluntly saying that “if I was bored, now that I didn’t have Eric around to give me tons of work and emotional strain, I could come over and hug her son to fill the void that I was feeling and that her son could take Eric’s place (and relieve her of her stress).”
“What?!!!!!!” I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “Are you serious? I thought, as I read and re-read the email. I never did respond.
Looking back, I wonder if all she wanted to do was to say that she was thinking about me and that it must be difficult to lose a child and that it’s so important to keep busy. Maybe that’s what she was trying to say. Maybe.
If you want to lend your support to someone, here are a few things to think about.
Consider your approach. It’s important to consider how you approach a conversation. If it’s a simple, “I am thinking about you”, a text or an email may be appropriate. However, if you have more to say, pick up the phone or get together for a coffee.
Get in touch with your own emotions first. Think about how you are feeling and why you want to have the conversation. Is it for you, to sort out your emotions or do you want to reach out and offer support by listening and letting your friend “get it out.” How do you feel about feeling vulnerable and hearing vulnerability in someone else?
Ask. Before you begin to talk, ask the other person if they feel like talking about it.
Actions may offer more than words. Go ahead, bring dinner or drop in and take them out of a walk. If you are at work, drop off a card on your colleague’s desk or invite them out for lunch. I remember when my mom was quite stressed about the loss of her mom and some other things going on in her life, a neighbor called her and said that she was picking her up the next day to go to aqua fitness. While reluctant, my mom appreciated the invite and continued with the class for about 10 years, prior to her own illness. The people in the class became some of her closest friends during the later years of her life. If you are thinking about taking action for someone you love, “just do it.”
How do I feel about feeling vulnerable and hearing vulnerability in someone else?”
I wonder if starting a conversation about loss is really about asking that question. Our emotions are exposed and how do we cope?
With loss comes loneliness and a sense of being alone. I would rather know that someone is thinking about me or missing some of the people that I am missing. That brings me comfort and I feel less isolated. I know that there is someone out there with whom I can laugh, cry and share the ups and downs of life.