Visiting The Bereaved 101Posted on Friday, January 13th, 2012 at 11:15 AM
People die everyday, and irrespective of how much we know this and we tell ourselves over and over nothing prepares us enough for the shock of losing a loved one. The immense loss you feel is indescribable, it gives you a sucker punch that leaves you reeling. Not even knowing that death is inevitable prepares you for the intensity of the wave of emotion that would flood through you but you have to deal with it… That and the visitors or people who have come to commiserate with you.
“It is well”
“God knows best”
“Please don’t cry”
“It is the perfect will of God”
“Her work on earth is done”
“We can’t question God”
“The Lord gives and the Lord taketh”
“It is well”
Oh have I said that before? Oh ok… “It is well” is a popular one, but you see when you’re the one with the huge vacuum in your heart, it is really hard to see the “wellness” in the situation.
People want to visit, to do something, to say something but sometimes they make it worse. The church folk (where applicable) who come and sit for hours singing hymns of how we will meet with our loved ones sometime in the after life. They say the most
“theoretical” things in the face of your acute grief… “Let us not cry like unbelievers who have no hope of the afterlife…” “Be strong
for your Mummy oh! If you’re crying like this, what do you want her to do?” They forget that you have feelings of your own, they forget that you are human and sometimes it is just hard to push your own feelings on to the back burner because it is “right” to do.
Then we have the “friends” who want to know how the death occurred? So you find yourself telling the story over and over. You find that your visitors take you back to that unhappy place every time. So you’re telling of the car accident, of the protracted battle with cancer, of the sudden illness, of the rioters who had little regard for human life. You find yourself constantly telling the tale without rest.
Then you have the extended family members who have come to commiserate with you but are just depleting your resources. They sit in the living room from morning to night, a permanent weepy look on their face with constant intermissions to look for meals.
There is also the group of visitors who have just come to see how you’re handling your grief for reporting purposes.
“Ah, and when I got there he was dressed nicely, sitting in the living room and watching TV sef!”
“Her hair was neatly packed, she was wearing leggings… You could never tell she just lost her brother”
It would be unfair to leave out the people who believe that aggression and a firm shaking up is what you need. “Do you want to kill yourself? Will crying bring her back? This is not what she would have wanted. So STOP crying!”
Dude!! Who are you to tell me what to feel and to tell me how to feel whatever it is I feel.
I strongly believe that until you’ve been there, until you’ve walked down that road of grief, sorrow and mourning you can never really know what the person is going through and the best thing to do is to just say nothing.
In March 2010, my brother’s generator exploded and his apartment went up in flames. He died five days after the fire.
The visitors didn’t stop coming to the house. It was love, but it was really very exhausting. People were discussing the inadequacies of the failed government and how if NEPA worked my brother would not have died…right there in our living room. Some asked over and over if he was pouring fuel into his gen at that time… “No, he wasn’t fueling his gen. No he wasn’t on the phone. The generator sputtered as he was about to turn it off and it exploded” I recited this over and over till I was weary, to people who were here to visit me in my time of sorrow. They were singing “When peace like a river…” “till we meeeet at Jesus’ feeeeeet”continuously. When my parents went up to their room to lay their heads down for a bit, some “really close friends” would go to their room to give them some “words of comfort”… all they really wanted was to sleep.
I understand that it may be a bit uncomfortable when you go and visit someone who has lost a loved one, most times you really don’t know what to say or how to act and you tend to blurt out the wrong thing but I know some things that you can never go wrong with.
- A long warm hug never hurt anyone. No words no placatory words, nothing but a long warm hug.
- A listening ear; not an interviewer, a listener.
- Someone who would just listen to how you feel and allow you to be yourself and express how you feel.
- Someone who will ensure you sleep when your body is weak, who will insist you eat and try to remain as healthy as possible, given the circumstances.
- Someone who will do the running around for the planning of the burial
- Someone who will tell the visitors when to leave.
- Someone who understands what you are going through
So, when next you have to visit someone who has just lost someone who is really close to him/her, please try to remember that it is already difficult losing a loved one, don’t make it worse. Don’t go mumbling insensitive things like “o ga oh! And I just saw her yesterday looking strong and healthy. This life is too short heoww!” ” Kai, if only she hadn’t gone to Bauchi and redeployed to Lagos instead. Just sit quietly, sign the condolence register (if any) and leave.
Dedicated to the loving memory of Emmanuel Bahago, Daniel Adedeji Taiwo and Dr. Paul Ishola Alade