Grief and loss and people’s reactions to them are funny things. That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but my recent experiences qualify me to say things exactly as I have come to see them.
After my beloved dad died four months ago, my family and I have been fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of so much love, warmth, and sympathy from loved ones, friends and family.
From cards with beautiful words of sympathy, to warm reminiscences and recollections of each stage of Dad’s life, we took so much comfort in the fact so many people wanted to reach out to us and help us in any way possible in our time of sorrow. As each letter and card arrived from school friends, old customers and drinking partners (my Dad was a publican and took his specialist subject of fine ales very seriously), as well as friends old and new, we felt able to hold on to a little bit more of the amazing person we were so devastated to lose.
There were, or course, some surprises along the way. Some of the people closest to us, who we expected to be the biggest source of comfort and reassurance, did not know what to say or do and so, in some cases, stayed away from us completely.
Now the sharp knife blade edges of the early weeks of grieving are beginning to blunt a little, I am starting to see that, in my own suffering, I had given very little thought to how difficult it might have been to even begin to try to help to soothe our sorrow or indeed, to find any appropriate words to say.
People I know very well have crossed to the opposite side of the street, having caught sight of me. It didn’t cross my mind they simply couldn’t find the words – all I felt was dismay.
Conversely, comfort and empathy have come from more unlikely sources.
Barely known acquaintances and friends of friends who have also recently lost someone close have provided shoulders to cry on and the kind of comfort that can only come from someone who has experienced a similar loss and sense of grief.
Also, realising that while others could never share the acute stab of grief a wife or daughter feels when they lose the love of their life or idolised father, they are indeed missing and grieving for what my dad meant to them.
It is this realisation and the emergence from that first selfish and all encompassing phase of mourning that is helping me to understand and accept why people sometimes react the way they do. It’s not personal, nor purposefully hurtful, just a gut reaction to a situation that is too uncomfortable for most people to confront.
Perhaps it’s a unwelcome reminder of their own mortality or that of their own treasured family. All I know is that next time I see someone who I know to be grieving, I will make a special effort to cross the street to them and, if no words spring to mind, just tell them I don’t know what to say but “Sorry”.