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Being There


I read today an article written by Mary Elizabeth Williams for the Salon publication (reposted on Hoopla) about what she believes to be the best thing to say to the bereaved after someone close to them dies.  See the article below.

When I read such articles, I partly agree that we need to improve communication concerning death and grieving and am pleased that the subject has been raised, yet I feel for people who struggle to know what to say and in spite of that still say something.

We live in a Western culture that mostly ignores death and end of life preparation.  Customs around death and grief vary greatly in different societies and nations around the world.  What possibly is criticised now, as the wrong thing, was likely to have been the right thing at one time.  Is it possible to determine a ‘right’ thing to say with such diversity and change in etiquette?

I’ve lost several close family members and have flinched at some of the things people have said, yet my opinion is that it was better they had said something, anything, rather than nothing.  It’s not only the bereaved who are affected by death.   I know why awkward sentiments are expressed and eventually take such comments with good intent.  I too have struggled to express words intending to comfort the bereaved.

Generally, we can’t control what people feel and say and nor should we, so how is it possible to do so when communicating feelings over a death?   If there were a book on death etiquette would the words of condolence likely to sound insincere and repetitive?

Encouraging people to feel comfortable when expressing what they really want to say is possibly the ideal circumstance.  I also agree that being physically present for the bereaved, such as listening to them, sitting with them, holding their hand, crying with them and hugging them as well as other practical chores that may be helpful to do on their behalf,  are the most powerful and truet acts.  But would even that suit everyone?

Because a loved one has died it doesn’t mean we get to control how others around us should feel, speak and behave. We can only hope that improving our culture through having conversations and forums about death and end of life care will people be accepting of grief and death when they occur.   And be assured that even then, it won’t suit everyone.  Whilst death is sad it is also a natural occurrence, despite the circumstances.

If you have something you would like to say on the subject I would love to hear from you.

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