What was his name?: What to really say to the grieving.
I just read the most beautiful article about how to grieve. However, although the author possibly doesn’t even know it, it was also about what to really say to the grieving. The article, posted online by The Irish Times, was titled “Message to a heartbroken widow: embrace your grief“. The author, Michael Harding, describes a chance encounter with a young widow. He uses her story, along with his observations of how his mother grieved following the loss of her husband, to give advice on how to grieve. While I love the advice he gives in the article, I will need to write about it another time.
Today, however, a different aspect of the article really stood out to me. As the young widow related her story to him, I was struck by the first question he asked her: “What was his name?” A simple question, yet so powerful it actually brought tears to my eyes. Not, “How did he die?”, or “How long has it been since he passed away?” So often, when we discover that someone we’ve met has lost a loved one, those seem to be the first questions we ask. Yet, I can’t help but wonder why? They are factual details, but don’t really ask about the actual person. They don’t lend us any insight about the person who has passed away, what their life was like, what the person who remains behind misses most about them.
One of the most frequent comments from individuals who have lost a loved one is that they wish more people would say their loved one’s name. I find myself, after reading this article, thinking of all the things we attempt to advise people on ‘what to say to the grieving’. We come up with platitudes, such as ‘sorry for your loss’, ‘this must be so hard for you’, etc. And yet, how powerful and meaningful would it be if we simply asked their name. To truly show we care, by acknowledging that the person they cared about was more than a past event. They were an integral part of this person’s life, and they had a name. Yes, some people eventually ask the name of the deceased. But it struck me as absolutely beautiful and touching how that was the first question he asked.
We do so much in our society to try to avoid pain and painful circumstances, including coming alongside others in their pain. We stick to the factual questions, because there’s less emotion tied up in them. Instead, if you truly want to help a grieving person, embrace their pain, embrace their loved one for the person they were….and start by asking their name.
Take Time – Acknowledge Your Loss – Grieve Together. http://grievingtogether.ca