During the most profound parts of my grief over the loss of my boyfriend, I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it will be before I can talk about Chuck without making people uncomfortable.” I wanted to talk about him. I really did. Both good stuff and bad stuff. I wanted to process what I was feeling and why. But I found it really hard to discuss it with people because I felt as if I were making them squirm, and they didn’t know what to say.
How could I explain to them that it was okay to talk about Chuck? How could I tactfully make the point that death, as a general rule, is not contagious after the fact? How could I reassure them that they couldn’t possibly cause me any more pain than I was already in, and that, by talking about him, they were actually helping me? My energy was at an all-time low, so I wasn’t in the mood to school people.
Then the other day I came across the following in a book by Barbara Kingsolver, and as per usual, she really knows what to say:
“People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we’ll somehow remind them of death’s existence, we are missing their reality.”
This couldn’t be more true! It’s not like we’re taking a vacation from grief and by bringing the subject up you’re thrusting us back into that awful place. You’re not reminding us of something we’ve forgotten. We’re already there, people. And it’s okay. We’re going to survive. It’s just that it would be so comforting to talk about it, so nice to feel less isolated. So make the effort, even if it’s just to ask if we’d like to talk. It would mean more than you know.
I’m happy to say I’ve gotten past the worst of my grief (although it will never go away completely), but if anything could have made the experience easier, it would have been the general sense that I didn’t have to censor myself to avoid making everyone feel awkward. Please try to give that gift to the people you love who are grieving.