Death has different ways of striking and carrying away the people we love dearly. Sometimes it comes on tip toes from behind, taking us by surprise, hitting like a tsunami, destroying our peace of mind and happiness in just a moment and leaving us agonised and dazed by the intensity of the pain it creates. And on others, we watch in despair and anguish the ebbing away of the tide of life from a cherished person, hoping against hope that some miracle would stop it from striking.
When it comes to the passing away of our loved ones, the sorrow it causes has the power to sweep off the feet (though momentarily) even those of us who are emotionally strong. Only time can heal the heartache we experience. But this is also the time when we expect and need maximum emotional support from friends and family, and more often than not they move in quickly to help us in our hour of grief. Their care and reassurance is valuable for us, as they help us overcome the initial pain and learn to live with the sense of loss.
It is strange that in spite of their sympathy and eagerness to help, well meaning friends often say or do things which instead of helping us, only hurt or irritate us, forcing us to withdraw into our cocoon of pain.
Rehana, a university student, whose father passed away recently, says, “Everyone who came for condolences thought it was his/her duty (or right) to embrace me and shed a few (even artificial) tears. Maybe they considered it an important norm of attending the funeral. What most of them did not realise is that I felt more irritated than consoled by the big hug, as I am not comfortable to physical touch. People should understand that sometimes saying a few kind words or just holding hands in silence can be more comforting than hollow words or acts”.
Nazia, who lost her husband a couple of years back shares her experience, “When the time came for my husband’s funeral casket to be lifted, I wanted to have some time alone with him, paying my last homage to a very caring husband and reliving memories of the happy times we had spent together. But sadly I was denied this by the eagerness of friends and relatives who gathered to have the last glimpse of him; a large number of people squeezed into the small room, not realising that those were very sensitive moments which I did not want to share with everyone. The grief and suffocation caused me to faint and when I came to, my husband was gone forever.”
There are times in life when pain engulfs our heart in such a way that we do not want to let it go and we feel that our grief will remain as intense throughout our lives. Any attempt to divert it only increases the pain. Asma and Zohair share the memories of the death of their first born. Zohair says, “Our son caught pneumonia when he was only three months old. We were devastated when he succumbed to its complications. Most of our relatives tried to console us by saying that eventually we will have more children and our heartache would subside. I felt angry and hurt and more miserable than consoled by these comments”. Asma asks sadly, “How could people expect us to forget our first love? After all, every child holds a special place in his parents’ heart. Years have passed and we have been blessed with two more children but the memories of our first child keep clinging to my heart and I still feel that a part of me died with him”.
Another mistake people often make is asking the bereaved not to weep. What else should be expected from someone who has lost a near and dear one? Unshed tears leave deep scars on the soul, scars which never heal; tears are nature’s way of healing pain and it is better to let them flow. Slowly they will subside because no matter how great the pain, no one can cry for ever.
Saying things like “I understand your pain”, “I have been through this”, “You will get over it with the passage of time” or “When so and so died…” only increases the heartache, because every sorrow is unique in its nature and everyone reacts differently to pain and mourning. In their hour of bereavement, people usually like to believe that for them, life will never be the same again. This is the last homage they are paying to the departed person they loved dearly. By speaking less, listening more and letting the grieved person pour his/her heart out, friends and relatives who come for condolences can make the bereaved feel that they understand and share the anguish and sense of loss.