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Friday, March 24, 2017

Grieving: What to Say When Someone Dies

At a Loss for What to Say

Years ago, in my early 30's, I attended my first funeral ever for an eight-week old baby boy who died of SIDS. I had just visited the healthy and happy boy the previous week and I couldn't imagine what to say to his mother. Viewing the tiny coffin was the saddest thing I ever saw. I was broken-hearted for my friend. 

But having virtually no up-close experience talking to people in the aftermath of loss--and perhaps due to growing up in a culture in which we avoid talking about death--I felt inadequate and afraid I was going to say the wrong thing and make things worse. 

Somehow saying, 'Sorry for your loss' seemed inadequate at best. Should I just keep quiet? Should I divert attention to another topic? Should I encourage her to look to the future knowing she was young enough to have another baby? 

But thanks to the very wise minister who conducted the funeral service that day I learned a very straightforward and compassionate way to provide the type of support people need upon losing a loved one that made sense to me.

He said people need to talk about their loved one--and keep talking. To gently, yet directly, support those coping with a loss engage in the conversation with them.

Reach Out in Love

People are often afraid to talk about the deceased for fear of upsetting those left behind he said .

But what people need is acknowledgement that this person they loved 
had impact in their time on earth. They need to talk about how their loved one LIVED, was LOVED, and MATTERED--and how they added meaning to their lives.

Freely talk about the loved one, he said, rather than avoiding the conversation.

Say My Name and Tell My Stories

Say the person's name, he said. Tell stories about your interactions with the loved one--and keep telling stories.

He went on to say people often stop talking about the deceased after the first year--but what those left behind need is to honor their loved one with stories for at least 5 years.  

Give people who've lost a loved one the opportunity to talk about their dear one in present-tense long after they've departed this world.

Within Tears, Find Hidden Laughter. 

Seek Treasures Amid Ruins.


It's Never too Late to Share Stories of Loss

It's never too late to talk to close friends or family members about the death of a loved one no matter how much time has passed. When you come from a place of compassion or love, your concern for their well-being will be well received.

After the funeral service I went straight home and called my mother. It took this experience for me to see for the first time how insensitive I had been to my mother about the loss of her first child more than 35 years prior.

Growing up, when I was asked how many kids there were in my family I said there were six kids and I was #4 in the line up of 6 siblings--despite the fact that I was #5 in the line up of 7 siblings. Through the eyes of a child I only saw what was before me: six living children.

Whenever my mother was asked how many children she had, she always said she had seven, but her first baby died at birth. Although I heard her say this many times, in my childish oblivious manner that loss of her first baby due to a breach birth was simply a blip on the screen of life and she went on to have six more children.

When I called my mother that day I asked her how she handled the loss of my brother when it happened--and apologized for how insensitive I had been as a child. She talked. I listened.

She said it was really hard. 'John' had been a healthy baby that was born breach, or feet first. While she was still in the hospital, her family took down the baby's nursery she spent months preparing and stored everything away in the attic. When she got home she went looking for the baby clothes and crib that had been hidden away. And people told her, 'you're young and healthy--you'll have more'--leaving her to grieve alone.

Listen Deeply and Compassionately

All we have in life is each other and our experiences with each other. We need to share what we love and who we love--including those we've lost.

As my friend, Normie, said, 'Our culture seems to be nearly insistent that conversations about loved ones who have left us should be avoided at all costs...too morbid or something!  WRONG!'

When someone you love loses a loved one, be ready to talk about the dearly loved one--telling tales, sharing memories, and laughing about good time. At all times be ready to listen deeply and compassionately--allowing the other person to share from the depths of their heart.

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For more than 35 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes letting go and moving forward with life easier than ever before.

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Susan Yeagley said...

Thanks for this. It really does help my heart when I have a chance to tell or hear stories about mom. They are often funny as well, and of course humor is a natural remedy for grief.

Jean | said...

Sue, this is such an important post. I'm going to tweet it right now.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Susan, I too, have found it healing and uplifting to be able to share the stories of my mother and father. They stay with us. The funny and somber stories are equally important to tell. Our spirits and hearts are filled with rich experiences we shared together that lent so much meaning to our lives. I know how much you shared smiles and laughter with your mom--I witnessed it every time I saw you together. What warm memories. Hugs.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Thanks, Jean. The advice herein has served me well.

moey said...

I wept when I read this... Thank you for that. Your dear mother. I wish I'd been there. xo

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Moey, we often fail to see the pain, suffering and loss someone carries with them from the past. No one--not even the most optimistic and upbeat among us gets out of life without experiencing heart-breaking loss. Moo was so present and upbeat it was hard to see the deep wounds of her loss. xoxoxo