Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Is or Was? 24 hours ago or 24 hours later: A Tense Moment


"What was his favorite color?" I asked the young man, as we stood in the display room of caskets.

"Was?" he replied in surprise?

It was an awkward moment. His father had died 24 hours ago, and choosing the color of a casket lining was like a dream he yearned to wake up from.

Since then, I have tried to use the present tense when speaking of a life only recently concluded. I strive to recognize that some aspects of a relationship are timeless, though a physical connection has ended.

Michele Neff Hernandez, widowed at a young age, wrote in her bi-monthly column 'Healing Through Loss':

"What I have learned is that his memory is held not only in the physical evidence of his existence, but in the indelible mark he left on my soul. No amount of time, space, or familiarity will rub that mark off."
In fact, you may remember the advice given by Phyllis in a recent post about the deaths of her children:  "I haven't cut my children out of my life story, so please don't. If you're chatting in the office about parenting, include me-- I'm a Mom, too. Let me know that you remember my daughter and son."


If you are rolling your eyes and thinking this is getting too complicated, keep reading.

Sensitivity to a person's grief requires that we let them lead the way. A simple way to do that is by listening. 

Emily Clark, a writer for Hello Grief, also suggests a support technique called reaffirming what is said. This is an excellent skill for anyone wanting to improve sensitivity and conversational comprehension:  YOU'VE GOT TO PAY ATTENTION!  Put simply, when you are told, "I don't know what to do since Steve died, " your response can be "You feel overwhelmed by Steve's death."  

 "Don’t feel pressured to speak or come up with something eloquent.  The griever isn’t talking to you with an expectation that you are there to solve their problems or suddenly give them insight into their grief that they hadn’t considered before."  -Emily Clark
The Condolence Coach concurs, with a standard principle for note writers:  Though you can comfort, remember that you are powerless over grief. In a condolence note, you can offer to be a good listener without "hitting someone over the head with the offer."

Dear Maryanne, 

You are not alone in coping with the sadness of your sister, Ginny's death. I feel helpless to offer you much consolation, except to say how much I cherish the memories I have. 

I wish I'd been able to get down to her home in Florida. Ginny didn't seem to mind the miles between us; she hadn't adopted email, but typed letters with her signature sign-off, “I’ll close now with all of our love and kisses to you." 

Any time you want to talk, call me, and we'll sit with a pot of tea. Would you show me your photo albums? There are more wonderful stories to be told.

Thank you for caring!

No comments: