A version of this post also published at The Mighty.
We (finally, thankfully) live in a time where we can talk about many topics once considered taboo. Subjects which were once not brought up in “polite company” are now openly discussed (and rightfully so). Things such as sexual assaults, interracial relationships, homosexuality, mental illness and substance addictions were deep, dark secrets to be kept within one’s own walls, but are now discussed on a daily basis and even represented in movies, television and advertising.
Grief is still kept behind the darkened curtains most of the time, though, despite the fact that it will touch almost everyone’s life at one point or another – several times over if you’re fortunate enough to love so much and so many. But it’s as if we widows, widowers and middows© have leper status; it seems that many people fear that grief is contagious and they’d like to avoid it at all costs.
To some degree, the hesitation to be around (or in some cases, even acknowledge) a griever is understandable. If you’re close to the person, it’s painfully difficult to watch them suffering and not be entirely sure what you can do to help. It’s often emotionally taxing to feel powerless to even know what to say. [To that end, here are a few pointers.]
If the deceased loved one was young, especially, the death could be raising questions of one’s own timing. I believe this played a factor in my husband’s passing. Having just turned 50 and of seemingly good health, friends and family began to question their own mortality as well as those of their own spouses.
People are often afraid to bring up one’s deceased loved one, thinking that it might open
up raw wounds. So they don’t say anything, in an effort to spare the griever. Guess what? We’re thinking of them anyway. Whether or not you mention them, they are on our minds. All. The. Time.
My best advice about this is to take your cues from the grieving. If you bring up their loved one and they begin to struggle, simply ask “is this too hard for you to talk about right now?” Some of us (me, included) want to talk, even through the pain. In my case, it’s really comforting to know his loss is felt by someone else. And then I may need a break from it and will ask to focus on something happier or more mindless. Others may not be ready yet, or they may simply grieve more internally, or they are on their way somewhere and don’t want to mess up their make-up. But really, the choice needs to be our own.
But if widow/ers feel they cannot be open about their grieving for fear of upsetting or offending someone, and society in general doesn’t like to talk about grief, preferring instead to live in a grief-free bubble as much as possible, how are we ever to remove this last major societal taboo? The answer lies in talking about it. And witnessing it. And seeing grief in all its ugly “glory”.
We, as widow/ers, must be brave enough to show the world what grief looks like. We as a community must allow widow/ers to put on whatever face of grief they need to, knowing that not only can it change day to day, it can literally change minute to minute!
So what does the “real face of grief” look like? Of course there will be sadness and pain. Naturally there might be anger. There will likely be guilt or loneliness or confusion or a deep hole of nothingness.
But there can also be joy in remembering the special moments shared with the person s/he lost. They can be laughter in humorous memories. There can be peace in knowing a loved one isn’t suffering any longer. There should be all of these emotions.
Most importantly, through it all, there will be a shared love. The connection we felt with the person closest to us.
It is because of this love that we are grieving in the first place. The loss of this person leaves a gaping hole. I’m fairly certain I’ve likened this absence to an amputee and the ghost limb syndrome before. There are times I can still feel his presence with me (and times I would swear he is putting thoughts in my head, and little messages I pass along to my children prefacing it by saying “Daddy wants me to tell you this.” (It’s as if I have evolved into Oda Mae Brown in Ghost, becoming a voice for my husband, often just to be the deliverer of a “Dad joke”.)
So whether you find me lost in thought, or smiling, or laughing, or tearing up, or blubbering, or wandering around like a zombie, I am grieving. Sometimes it hurts less than other times, but it is still there. And I want to talk about it. Until I don’t. It’s all part of the process. But it should be an open process. I (and others like me) shouldn’t have to feel that we have to hold back because it will bother someone else.
What it all boils down to, is that I apologize if you are one of those “lucky” ones who gets to hear me talk about my husband. All. The. Time. I regret those I make uncomfortable to the point they’d rather be anywhere else. I’m sorry that my pain is difficult for some of you to see because it reminds you that there will likely come a time when you, too will feel that pain, so you avoid it.
But mostly, I am heartbroken that there are far too many people still trying to hide grief and the grieving in the shadows where it really has no place being. To paraphrase another Patrick Swayze film, “Nobody should put grief in the corner!” The dark is where it festers and grows so large that it overwhelms those dealing with it, who often shrivel away for lack of light. The shadows are where the demons hide, more than happy to pull me down into the depths.
So let’s rid ourselves of this last taboo subject. Let’s talk about grief more openly, both as the grieving and as those who love someone who is.
If you see my ugly-crying, it’s OK to comfort me the best you can – in fact, it’s welcomed and appreciated. Just don’t mention how bad I look. Let’s make that the last taboo subject.
© 2017 Many Faces of Cheri G All Rights Reserved
[Note: Before I became a widow, I admit that I was often at a loss of what to say to someone in this situation. I, too, was guilty of avoiding talking about someone’s loved one because I didn’t want to cause them any more hurt or because listening to their stories was awkward ; I simply didn’t know what to do or say. I was just as culpable of adding to the taboo surrounding grief. But now I have an opportunity to raise awareness and that’s what I’m going to do. Having an inside view, I can tell you that it’s ugly and lonely in here and we shouldn’t be doing this alone. And we shouldn’t be hiding it away. We need to bring it out into the light where it can be accepted by everyone (even when it isn’t welcomed). xoxo Cheri G]