Glossing over grief

‘Singing light songs to the heavyhearted
is like pouring salt in their wounds.’
Proverbs 25:20

If I’ve learnt anything from grief it’s this. Whilst browsing Proverbs (The Message), this jumped out at me instantly (I find that happens a lot, I can open the Bible and a single sentence will catch my eye and mean so much to me at that time or answer a question to something that has been troubling me).

This particular proverb struck a chord with me as, since Abi died, I’ve found it difficult to deal with those who I feel are obviously trying to pretend it’s all okay when they know it’s not. They seem dismissive of or embarrassed by deeply unhappy, personal feelings, as though life should carry on as it did before; laughing too loud, talking too quickly, avoiding the subject of grief or death, not freely saying Abi’s name or including her in conversation, skirting around the ‘elephant’. For me, it truly feels as though salt is being rubbed deep into the sorest wound and I’ve been battling with (and praying about) how to deal with this (…I can’t!).

My prayers have at least helped me to understand that these individuals are not doing this to be uncaring, that it’s likely due to their own upbringing or experiences surrounding death; they use this ‘brushing off’ technique as their own coping mechanism or find it easier to talk of ‘light’ subjects rather than risk an atmosphere. They cannot comprehend the loss of a child and are perhaps happier living in denial about how much this actually hurts and the long-term effects it can have on even routine things. A grieving parent might find it hard to open up about his or her feelings in any case, but it’s even less likely in an already tense situation.

I’ve found things easier with those to whom I can talk openly. I don’t fall apart on people when I talk of Abi, but I want to feel able to speak of her or of what life has been like for me as naturally as with other general conversation – to be sad one minute but able to laugh the next. To get signals that says they’re not open to this makes conversation awkward, stilted and difficult. This is one thing I feel that only time will help me to deal with, but for now, I don’t feel the onus is on me to ‘deal with it’ on their behalf. I can only do what I can do to make them comfortable while I feel tense and obliged to pretend I’m okay. One day, I’ll be stronger.

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To face up to one’s emotions and allow them to surface without fear is a vital element of building strong relationships and enabling a grieving person to feel as though they don’t have to conceal their feelings. Though having experienced both sides of this, I feel it’s perhaps harder for a person to support a grieving person than it is for the bereaved to accept support. I know how I’m feeling in my grief, but in the past I wouldn’t know how another grieving person was feeling, so I would be more wary about what to say or do. Now, to my sorrow, I feel better equipped to do this, but I appreciate many people don’t; it’s not something you get lessons in!

Grief should be shared as well as private, though none of us react the same or even know how we would react until we are faced with it. Just as each death is unique, so is each person’s reaction. It seems impossible to judge what to do for the best, but masking the sorrow, I know, doesn’t help anyone.

No matter what you might think of the Bible, there is so much wisdom in there which speaks to us just as much today as it did when it was written thousands of years ago.

‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’
Romans 12:15

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7 thoughts on “Glossing over grief

  1. Another beautifully written blog Kelly. I think you are a good writer and wonder if perhaps you feel led to put it all into a book at some point. Regarding the awkwardness around people who are grieving, it’s so true and I think people feel that whatever they say couldn’t possibly be enough, or might come out wrong, and no-one gets any teaching about how to behave, so it’s a natural reaction and people have the choice to either face it and bring the subject up, or see whether the person who has suffered a loss brings their loved one up, or try to act ‘normally’ which for many people means seeming dismissive like you say. Also even if the person wants to bring it up, they sometimes can’t think how, so wait for you to do so. Because Abi was so young and young people are more natural in their responses, I expect having the RIP Abi page on Facebook makes it easier for her friends and you to be open and to talk about her in a non-awkward way and to show and continue the love for her in a way that is fitting to her personality. Even writing that last sentence I am wondering if it’s the right or wrong thing to say – but learning from you and what you say in your blog can make your friends and contacts aware of what you prefer, and your point being that you want Abi embraced and mentioned and involved and not avoided. I was once at an after-funeral thing and a person who had lost someone themselves (her husband, under 35) was being very firm with a couple of us who were crying, and saying “stop it, stop crying, you mustn’t be sad about this you have to pull yourselves together”. And that was awkward too and yet for that person, I think she was saying out loud what she was trying to do within herself, and so there was nothing I could say as it was her sadness about her own very personal loss as well as the loss that was being mourned at that funeral.
    The more we can all learn about grief the better because we all are either going through it, or will have to at some point, and we all will have to comfort someone and be comforted, and it’s the most unfair and painful and yet certain thing in this life.
    Written with love
    Sal x

  2. Thank you for your honesty Sali. There is so much to be learned from grief, about ourselves and others. Having a facebook page does help us to see that many others still grieve for Abi too, and her friends are some of the loveliest, bravest and most caring people I know. It’s a useful place for them to share their thoughts of missing their friend without keeping it bottled up. Unlike your friend, I wouldn’t ask people to stop grieving at a funeral, though I agree with what you say about that. Sometimes I’ve been with someone who starts to well up about Abi and I’ve found myself saying ‘Oh don’t start, or you’ll set me off.’ It all depends what sort of day I’m having. That’s all it is… a daily journey. xxx

  3. Yes I think that’s part of the thing that people are wary of – if they see you in a non-tearful state they might think you’re having a good moment, and wish to avoid starting you off, to spare you, and yet the truth is it’s so ongoing and deep rooted (whilst always still being near the surface) that nothing can really spare you and you will react in your own way anyway. I have never met someone so able-to-express-in-words as you. And what a lovely mummy you are. Those precious years you and Abi did have together, were beyond beautiful and it’s incomprehensible that a relationship like that had to end (in its earthly capacity). I know you believe in Heaven. I believe that people go on in some way, yet to be known by us until we get there too. X

  4. I know the “elephant in the room” syndrome, too. I have found myself trying to put others at ease when I am the one who is grieving. We do not know how we will react in our grief until we have experienced it ourselves. I am not sure we can prepare our emotions because emotions just are. The proverb you quoted says is all.

    The Bible is referred to as the Living Word because of the very thing you wrote. Each one of us can read a passage or verse and it will speak to us in whatever circumstance because that is how God speaks to us. His word still lives and will continue to hold treasures of wisdom for us as long as this world exists. I pray that you will be filled with “the peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6,7) and continue to pass that peace along to all who are grieving. God bless you.

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