On the morning of October 5, 2014 I instantly acquired a new language – the language of grief. It is a very unique language, in that no two people speak it the same way. There are different dialects – the dialect of losing a spouse, the dialect of losing a child, the dialect of losing a parent. And even when two people speak the same dialect, they have different accents – the accent of sudden loss, the accent of illness, the accent of youth. When I acquired this new language it actually became my first language for awhile. All I could speak was grief. All I could think was grief. Nothing else made sense. Over time, I’ve gradually reacquired my original language, but there are still times when grief is all I can speak. Christmas can be one of those times.
It’s been three years since my husband Bill died. That may seem like a long time to you, but to me it just means that I’ve made it through each day of the year three times without him. Only three times. We spent 30 Christmases together. This will only be my fourth without him. It’s still new to me.
Death is an uncomfortable topic in our culture. Before I became fluent in grief, I too was at a loss of what to say to someone who was grieving, especially at Christmas when everything is supposed to be merry and bright. Now that I unfortunately have some experience, I thought I would offer you a few suggestions..
Please understand that I speak from my experience, with my own grief dialect and accent, so what I say may or may not apply to others, but it’s a starting point.
- Please don’t avoid me. I know it can be uncomfortable for you. It can be uncomfortable for me too. But I’d rather be uncomfortable with you, than uncomfortable alone.
- It’s okay to say “I don’t know what to say.” And I know people are just trying to be supportive, but trust me, any sentence that begins with “At least” is not comforting. “At least he didn’t suffer” “At least you were with him.” It’s like saying “Look on the bright side.” When I’m deeply grieving, there is no bright side. Please allow me that.
- Please say his name. Bill only came to church on Christmas Eve, so you may not remember him, and that’s okay. But if you do have a memory of him, please share it with me. Or ask me about Bill. I like to talk about him. I need to talk about him. Which brings me to my next point:
- Please don’t be afraid that you will make me cry. I cry a lot and I’m way past being embarrassed about tears running down my face. Try not to be embarrassed for me.
- One of the kindest things anyone has said to me when they saw I was having a hard time, was “Would a hug help?” and then allowing me to say yes or no.
- Please don’t be offended if I don’t look at you when I talk to you. Sometimes grief is so close to the surface, for whatever reason, and sometimes I don’t even know the reason, that even looking you in the eyes is more than I can handle at that moment. Please let me to cope the best I can.
- And finally – it’s okay to wish me a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year for that matter. I know they are wishes, not expectations. And I wish the same for you.