In Christian churches around the world, depending where you live, Holy Week began either yesterday or on Palm Sunday which is April 13 this year. This week has always been highly significant in my life and in the life I shared with my husband Bill. It took on even more meaning with his death the day before Palm Sunday in 2010.
Each of us who has lost a significant person remembers special days: birthdays, wedding anniversaries and traditional holidays. The empty chair is always a reminder. But what we tend to forget is that those who have experienced the death of a significant person have other special days that cause us to remember, relive and honor the person whose death we grieve. For some it is the date of the last conversation they had with a child or spouse. A mother might feel a surge of pain as she watches the neighborhood kids walk past her house on their way to their first day of school each year because her child is no longer here to walk with them. Not only do I remember Bill's burial on Holy Saturday each year but I remember the date I admitted him to the hospital a few weeks before he died and the date I brought him home 5 days before he died. Those were significant events that no one else would know about unless I told them. And sadly, in spite of being a very open person, I have learned to be cautious about sharing my pain, those special days and more.
Why? Well, it is pretty simple. If I share pain with someone who, for whatever reasons, (though well intentioned and sincerely wanting to help), responds by ignoring what I say, judging, saying the wrong things, then I am left with more pain. If I tell someone who knows loss and has truly dealt with or is dealing with grief, the chances are greater that they might put their arms around me and say, "I am here. I will listen." So we who grief learn who we can trust with our pain and for many that number is very small. For some it is, sadly, non-existent.
We live in a grief and death phobic society and many grow up unable to relate to someone who is grieving. Instead people get uncomfortable around a death or just do not know what to say and since our society preaches "be happy" the message grieving people too often hear includes some version of "isn't it time to move on". That message supports those who are uncomfortable with grief and leads those who grieve to feel abandoned and alone.
You might think I am being dramatic or exaggerating but frankly I could tell you stories for a long time about those who have experienced this. I could tell you about people abandoned by those they counted on most for comfort and people being told to move on just weeks after losing someone they cherished including a beloved pet. I know it sounds like I am making this stuff up but believe me, I am not making it up. I have experienced it myself and know many others who have also. Society as a whole needs to learn about grief and about how to be there for those who are grieving.
Is there someone you know (or know of) who is grieving (or alone) and who would appreciate an invitation to your Easter dinner or Passover Seder or to attend services with you, or just a call, a visit or a "thinking of you" card? Holidays are difficult for the bereaved.
Related to: general grief, helping those who grieve
Helping Another in Grief
A downloadable e-book by Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT (www.griefhealing.com) a gentle and wise bereavement counselor, author, and founder of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups.
How to Help a Grieving Friend: 11 Things to Do When You're Not Sure What to Do
A column in the Huffington Post by Megan Devine (www.refugeingrief.com) a therapist, author, and bereaved spouse whose writing will reach right into your soul.
I Want to Help Someone Who is Grieving: Common Myths About Grief
By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., founder of the Center for Loss, author of many great books on grief, and educator.
A Bill of Rights for the Grieving: From the Bereaved, Don't Tell Me How to Mourn
By Pamela Cytrynbaum, author, educator and executive director of The Chicago Innocence Project.