Getting Comfortable Talking About Grief

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

Getting Comfortable Talking About Grief

There was a time when death was part of everyday life. People didn’t tend to live long, and there was often a great deal of suffering while they were alive. Birth happened in the home, and death often happened there, too. If death happened elsewhere, the body was returned to the home whenever possible, for tender care and burial. Family members, and sometimes a trusted member of the community whose role it was to help, took care of the business of death.

We’re a long way from that now and in many cases death is turned over to the authorities. Medical diagnosis and treatment is often involved. We talk about battles, and fight to prolong life as much as possible. Death may be seen as a failure in our medical system; the enemy. This approach can sometimes create the illusion that we can defy death, when in reality death is inevitable for each and every one of us.

Since death can’t be avoided, it benefits us all to learn to talk about dying and death and grief. We need language for this universal experience. We need permission to ask our questions and share our stories. We need to know that what we are living through as our loved one dies, and in the aftermath, is a natural response to the loss we feel. We can get comfortable talking about it.

Be gentle. When you ask someone how they are, be mindful that they may not doing well, even if they seem to be managing. Try to use sensitive language and a softened tone when you check in with them.

Be kind. Let them know you are thinking about them and you’re available if they need support. Ask if you can help with specific tasks such as picking up some groceries or doing some yard work.

Be open. Share stories about their loved one’s greatest traits, or your best memories of them. Say their loved one’s name.

Be willing to listen. Let them tell you the parts of the story of death they feel comfortable sharing. If there’s something you can’t handle, offer to help them find someone who can be there for them as they talk about that part. Invite them to share stories about their loved one. Be prepared that they may repeat themselves as they try to adjust to the reality of the loss and hold on to their memories.

Be honest. If you don’t know what to say, tell them. They would likely rather hear that than have you stumble through platitudes that might dismiss their grief or hurt their feelings.

Be comfortable with silence. Once you say you’re sorry for their loss, it’s just fine to be quiet with them. You don’t need to fill the space with words or try to coax them to talk. Your presence is sometimes enough.

Everyone will experience death eventually, and being able to talk about it helps normalize this universal experience.

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