I am an experienced funeral practitioner, and to this day, even though I do not mean to, and I really should not, I still hesitate, when I see a friend or family member, who has recently lost a loved one. With all of the people I serve on a daily basis, one would think, I would have moved beyond that momentary awkwardness, when coming face to face, with a grieving friend.
Why do we experience awkwardness, avoid or even ignore our grieving friends? Is it because we fear inflicting further pain? Perhaps we fear our inability to console. Is it that we feel tongue-tied? Could it be we just do not know what to say? Maybe we fear making our friend cry. Whatever the reasons, we need to understand, that our awkward reactions, do not help our grieving friends. Indeed, these reactions have the opposite effect on them. Our failure to recognize and respond to our grief stricken friends actually inflicts additional pain on them. Alas, try as I might, overcoming this brief moment of hesitation, remains difficult for me, almost impossible actually, and I imagine it does for you too.
I have learned over the years that the most important thing I can do for a friend who mourns the loss of their loved one, is simply act normally. Understanding that this is impossible, I have moved beyond my weakness to do so, and have chanced upon the best alternative. “Acknowledge the elephant in the room.”
Mourners want and need most of all, to talk about their loss. They need to work through what has happened to them. Talking with someone who knows them and will not judge them, allows them to accept that death has happened, to realize that there is a new reality in which they must function, and redirects them to work out their road to recovery.
Do not be alarmed. This does not mean that every grieving acquaintance you have will want to carry on a detailed conversation with you, about his or her loss. A simple acknowledgment is more than sufficient. “I was sorry to hear about your dad,” offers an acquaintance comfort. Those same words, spoken to a dear friend, offer an appropriate opportunity for a healing conversation.
As the year closes, and we look forward to the next, I would suggest that you add this resolution to your list.
“Recognize the elephant in the room.”
If you will, you and your grief-stricken friends will benefit from its practice. You will also find that your discomfort is greatly lessened around the bereaved.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and mid-week grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.