When a friend is grieving

This afternoon I attended a Shiva, visiting the home of a friend who buried her husband yesterday. They are Jewish. Before heading over, I looked up this tradition and etiquette. What I observed once I was there, until I left, was pretty much honoring the tradition. The visitors were respectful of the bereaved; they were eager to hear stories of the loved one who passed. Perhaps this was a coincidence of this afternoon of Shiva being practiced to the book, or perhaps it is usually so. I could not help but compare this to certain things that were part of the afternoon in my home after my dear husband was buried. We are not Jewish. Does one need to belong to any specific religion to observe the sensible during and after a funeral and bereavement period, however long that may be?

My common sense has allowed me over the years to behave in certain ways out of respect to both the loved one who died and those loved ones left behind still living this life. I have observed dear friends and family and even strangers who have this exuding out of them. Then there are also some who are short of such sensibility and expected behavior.

Some of their behavior is completely selfish, turned inwardly irrespective of the event that has happened, not to them but, to someone else. Most often, the person is possibly overwhelmed, then or even generally in life, possibly so out of tune with how it may be to just be present in the moment. At the end of the day, people experience life differently. We need this to happen, probably, to be able to appreciate the good, peaceful, loving capacity of our humanity, in contrast to what should be avoided, in order to create more caring, nurturing, respectful environments for each other. Specifically in the cases of grief, to be able to gently hold an environment for the bereaved to rest and heal in, and then thrive once more.

Whether it is the day before or of the funeral, and many more days, weeks, months post, some things become, even more than ever, irrelevant, even insensitive. Take as an example, coming home right after a loved one is sent off to their next journey of existence, regardless of what the remaining ones have for a belief system at the moment. The loss, as we are humans more than the religions and beliefs that we have cocooned around us, is emotionally painful.

We may be numb from the initial shock. The event itself may feel surreal, more than likely. We may be floating in a strange land of trying to make sense of what happened during the last few days. We may be already deep in grief. We more than likely [Really] are not completely ready to switch to the land of the living and mundane and irrelevance of everyday minutiae. Most of us, more than likely, appreciate being surrounded by others. We need to be held in a peaceful atmosphere, to be attended to. And we need the presence of the one who died to be acknowledged and carried in a tender fashion, through reflecting of their memories.

Such gathering is not a forum, hence, to start switching the conversations to the mundane. It is not a time to talk about the new version of a phone or a cool gadget that is coming out, a car or a house you are in the market for, how life stinks. The problems of local or global politics that do not have a direct impact on the grieving and the dead in the short term are unnecessary.

When there is the more immediate matter of death and life that just occurred within this circle of family and friends, it is what needs acknowledgement and focusing on. If unsure, it is even ok to take the cue from the bereaved. Silence of total loving, caring, respect says more “I am here for you, and for as long as you need” than an empty talk. It is always worth its weight in gold, rather than filling up the air with irrelevant subjects of non significance. If it is so critical for some people to share their experience of whatever unrelated topic, be it their phones, social media accounts, personal activities, they are not present in the moment of mourning and supporting it; hence they politely belong elsewhere, until they can share in the mourning for or celebrating the life of the deceased.

Being Present in the moment of what is truly taking place in the heart, in the air, thick as cake to cut through, yet invisible to our physical eyes. That is what heals people, alone and with each other. Ignoring the significance of any given moment, for even reasons of discomfort with silence, therefore the need to fill it up with the verbal odds and ends that may come out is never healing. It leaves many on the receiving end with discontent, more desperate for peace and loving care, and in the case of mourners, more pain. They may be too pained, even exhausted, to tell you to bog off or just close your lips and embrace the moment. When you are quiet, they can finally have the space and strength to speak. And they do need to speak more than you. If they want to be quiet, then stay quiet with them to give them the safety net of your true love and support. Isn’t that what you really want to offer them after all?

Then even perhaps, try this with anyone, at any place. Be present in the moment. Start leaving more space between your words, unless of course you really are sure that both the giver and the receiver of the words are in perfect harmony to benefit from such exchange. Allow your silence to open up the other person’s world to you. Giving is more rewarding than receiving. Once you can give via your listening, you may be pleasantly rewarded with a more genuine and closer connection with the person than you have ever imagined.

The bereaved do not simply switch over night, even over months, back to the life of the living and the everyday mundane. They are on this life altering path for as long as it takes them. Your loving ears and presence is one of their safety nets. And it may be a learning experience for you to change your life to a different balance as well. Stop controlling the conversation. Let it unravel organically. Embrace the moment. Be really present in it.

Yasemin 

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