I had driven to the nearby town of Dodgeville that day for a computer repair passing the cemetery where my husband Bill is buried. To distract myself from the sadness I always feel when I drive that road, I flipped on public radio. On this day I was feeling relieved that the holidays since Bill's death were finally over. One of my favorite programs had just started: On Point with Tom Ashbrook. I learned this was his first day back following the death of his beloved wife, thereby ending the distraction I sought. Most anything of value on the subject of grief draws my attention. I am a therapist and bereavement counselor and I am also on my own grief journey. Certainly not like I was early on, but grief is forever and as many people who have walked this journey know, five years, though it seems like forever, also feels like yesterday. One learns to live with grief and search for anything that will ease the pain. I have spent 40 years working with those who hurt, many of them grieving...most I might say since grief is about many kinds of loss. How I wish all that experience had helped just a bit after Bill's death but nothing could ease that gut wrenching pain; pain that sits more quietly now, but still rears its head unexpectedly in spite of all the grief work I have done.
As I listened to Tom and his guest, author/bereavement counselor Rabbi Earl Grollman, (someone I deeply respect) I could feel Tom's pain as he shared openly and as callers and guests attempted to describe and discuss grief. "If only everyone could hear and absorb this program," I thought. They all spoke so honestly about how deep the pain is; how society tends as a whole not to understand or want to deal with grief or death or pain. One caller said how lonely the path is especially as others quickly go on with their lives. She spoke truth. After only a short time or even five years rarely do people ask someone who has experienced a huge loss how they are doing in regards to that loss. Education is so needed in our death phobic society and it is happening...finally, but all valuable change is slow. I sat in the parking lot while my computer was being worked on. I had to hear this program and listened with tears rolling down my face. An unexpected wave of grief, a trigger, had grabbed me...again.
There are no words that can heal. But listening to a bereaved person helps as do warm hugs. Just sitting and being with that person is comforting. No one can fix it. With a significant loss (loss of a child or spouse being among the most painful/traumatic) the bottom suddenly drops out of life; what was normal disappears; nothing is the same including the bereaved. I have assisted hundreds of people in grief and though grief is unique to each one, similarities abound...gut wrenching pain being a common denominator and feeling alone being another.
People tend to become timid about reaching out to the bereaved. Do not give in to that. Just reach out, mention the deceased person, and honor the response you get....whatever it is. It will be appreciated.
Published in Voice of the River Valley (February 2015 issue)