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.
I spent all of that Holy Week preparing for his Holy Saturday funeral and burial, choosing a simple and lovely wooden casket made by monks at the nearby Trappist Monastery and walking in a sad daze that I barely remember. So sometime after the anniversary of his March 27 death each year, I find myself reliving and remembering his death and burial on Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter, all forever linked to Bill's death.
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.
Person by person we can change society's ways with just a bit of education and a great deal of  presence, awareness, sensitivity and compassion. As we learn how to come from acceptance rather than judgment; love rather than fear; compassion rather than expectations...those who grieve will celebrate what this Holy Week is all about i.e. resurrection from fear.

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
The following e-books and articles provide loving guidance for those who want to be therefor someone who is bereaved and do that  in a supportive and comforting way .

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.
 


Comments

04/12/2014 10:03am

We try so hard to protect ourselves from loss and our own mortality. I understand it's natural to avoid those who grieve. I think many are unconscious of their actions. They sent a condolence card and made a phone call. Then they move on. I was so grateful for those who remembered the anniversary of Vic's death or his birthday. Just to make sure, I put out an open invitation to friends to join me for a walk on my land on the one year anniversary of Vic's death. I did not want to walk alone. And I agree there are many more memorable days we remember in private because they had such significance to others but weren't important to others.

Thank you for your important message and the weaving of the message with your personal story. I think of you on this Palm Sunday weekend--a time in the liturgical calendar that shifts in our day-to-day calendar.

Remembering, Elaine

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Mary Friedel-Hunt
04/12/2014 10:49am

I so agree, Elaine, people want to help but many lack the tools or courage. When several friends remembered without my saying anything, this past anniversary of Bill's death, the 4th one, it meant the world to me. Thank you so much for your kindness.

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Anne Gorman
04/12/2014 11:43am

Thank you for another well-written article on a subject many shy away from Mary. As a grieving person I too know how very important it is to me when others remember those days that mean so much to me. I love how you open your heart ~ I learn from your vulnerability

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Mary Friedel-Hunt
04/12/2014 12:47pm

Thank you, Anne. It is a tough subject but one that needs to be addressed off and on and one we can all change. Thank you for your kind response.

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04/12/2014 9:45pm

Thank you, dear Mary, for writing about this important topic and sharing your personal experiences so openly. And welcome to the blogosphere, made even better by your presence, as your beautiful and authentic voice now will be heard by so many! ♥

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04/12/2014 9:54pm

Thank you so much, Marty. Your words of praise mean a great deal to me.
Mary

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Helene Domi
04/25/2014 4:13am

I am so thankful that my friend recommended your blog . Although I did not lose my husband, your writings on your grief and on grief in general, have made my own grief journey seem less lonely....someone else gets it!
I lost my mom on Friday,April 13, 2012. She was my best friend. She was 87, and as her caregiver, we spent years together, inseparable. I feel like a big piece of my heart died that day.
I look forward to more posts.
My friend, Karen Moody, says you were the most influential teacher that she ever had; your creative writing class had a profound impact on her. I believe that is high praise from the awesome teacher that SHE is, dedicating herself to making a difference in the inner Chicago kids' lives.

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04/25/2014 7:40am

Dear Helene, I am so sorry to learn of the loss of your mom. It sounds like you had a wonderful relationship with her and that you devoted yourself to her care also. Losing our moms is life changing.

I taught Karen many years ago and she stands out yet today in my memory. Facebook brought her back into my life. She was back in the 70s a sweet and wonderful person and I can only imagine she is a dedicated teacher.

You may wish to go to our www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com site and check it out as a guest to see if it might be of help to you as you grieve the loss of your mom. There are many members there who really understand loss and who will be there for you. Also check out www.griefhealing.com/blog as that is my colleague's blog and it is loaded with helpful information. She is the founder of the discussion groups. There are many great sites for you to visit and glean some assistance with your grief. Any site I recommend on my resource page is worthy of your time and energy. You do not have to do this journey alone and you are most welcome to visit our forums. Marty (founder and colleague) and I are deeply involved in that site and both of us are bereavement counselors with many years of experience.

I wish you peace on this painful trek. I miss my own mother and always will. Peace, Mary

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