Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Say their name

It has been said that people love to hear the sound of their name.

I think for those of us who have lost someone we love, the sound of our beloved's name is even more precious to our ears.

After John died, I had the need to keep his memory alive. I needed to keep him real and present in my life. The first thing I did was print out pictures from our life together and hang those memories on the walls of our home. I made our hallway into a family memory gallery filled with happy photos of our life - our pets, our relatives, but mostly, pictures of John  - vacation shots, baby pictures his mother had saved, candid photos I loved. 

I remember a friend who I had not seen in quite a while visited me a few months after John's death. Her comment to me was "Don't you think you have too many photos of John hanging around the house?"

My first response was to ask her where her husband was at the time. As it was, he was in the next room. Alive and happy. Secondly, it was my house. Thirdly, we are no longer friends. That comment is not the only reason our friendship ended. It was on life support anyway but her inability to empathize and her completely heartless comment showed me we really had nothing in common anymore.

The other thing that became important to me after John died was finding ways to keep his memory current in my life. To continue to keep him in my present, not just in my past. And the way I did that was to say his name. To talk about him - telling stories of our life together, talking about how he continued to show up in my life by signs he gave me, saying his name with love, not sadness. It took time. There were tears in the beginning. And I am sure that it made some people uncomfortable. But I was lucky to have those around me who understood. Sometimes, our friends fear to mention the deceased person's name because they think it will make us sad. What are they afraid of? That it will remind us our loved one has died? We know. We will never forget that. What we fear is that their memory will die, too.

It is up to us to teach others that we can celebrate the life of someone who we love who has died. We can say their name. Tell their stories. Share what matters and smile. And being sad is okay too. It's life. All of it. The good, the sad, the hurt, the joyful.

Say their name. Love their life. Rejoice in what we have been blessed to have.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Loss is loss is loss

I read an article last week that spoke about the grief associated with the slow loss of a loved one to long illness. While I have never experienced that personally, I could definitely grasp the import of what she was saying until she said this (paraphrased) - she envied her widowed friend. Her husband’s death was final. The author, on the other hand, lived in uncertainty. That's when she lost me and my feelings of sympathy for her evaporated. That one sentiment got my hackles up. 

Somehow, she felt her situation was worse. Yes, her situation is hard and terrible and heart-breaking. I totally agree. But don't make blanket statements about other people's feelings like that. That brought up other things that have been said to me and other widowed friends.

I don't think there is any one of us who has lost a loved one and not heard either "I understand how you feel because I..." or "At least you..."
Every loss is different. No matter the similarities no one can say they truly understand what another is going through. 
The loss of my husband is not the same as the loss of your husband. 
The death of your child is not the same as the death of your friend's child.
Watching a loved one suffer years or months of illness and then dying is not worse than or better than losing a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly.
Watching a loved one deteriorate  and seeing the relationship change because of chronic illness or dementia is not better or worse than losing that loved one to death.

Grief is not a contest. 

There is no easier or harder grief. 
Our own personal grief is the worst grief there is.
That’s why platitudes and some of the pat phrases and ideas some people expound irritate me so much. We can offer support, explain what has helped us, what might work. But we can never say we fully understand what that person is going through. Grief is based on relationship and no two relationships are alike.
Everyone grieves and mourns in their own way. If you loved, you grieve when you lose that person no matter how that loss manifests. 
And this warning applies to those who purport to make our journey easier by latching on to the spiritual and metaphysical as if that is the answer too.
Don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in the afterlife and all that entails. Everyone who knows me at all knows that. I even wrote a book about it.
No, my beef is with those who try to sell the spiritual connection we can have with our loved ones as being the antidote to grief. Or better yet, try to sell that new - now spiritual - relationship as being "better than" the earthly one. That is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. I think to push that thinking is harmful. Negating someone's grief like that is very hurtful to the one who is sad and mourning.
I don't care how many "visits" you have or messages that you get, it's not "better than it ever was". I would give anything to have John walk through the door again and hug the heck out of him. 
But I am comforted by the messages I get from him and the communication that I feel I do receive. 
It helps me in this life until I am reunited with him in the next.
But I would never say that what we have now is better. It just is.
So, the next time you are tempted to help someone who is in the throes of grief by saying you understand or you know how to make this journey better, just stop for a moment. Swallow those words.
Instead, offer a hand. Offer your time. Let that person know you are there to just be, if that is all that is needed.
Mention the loved one's name. 
Your presence and love will help more than you can know.