When I was at the End of Life Forum in Croke Park in October, a lady who had been through a lot for her years, spoke very courageously about her own experiences with death and loss. Most in the audience were moved to tears with her words. One aspect of what she said remained with me. When speaking of the tragedy of losing a baby to still birth she spoke of how people, in an effort to provide comfort in some way, would say “sure at least you didn’t get to meet him” or “at least you didn’t bond with him yet”.
In Ireland we have an innate need to comfort one another with tea, tea and more tea. But while we do want to comfort we do not know how to deal with grief and those grieving, and I am generalizing here of course. But on the most part we could all identify a time where we, or someone we know, has uttered the words “Call me if you need anything” or “at least he wasn’t in pain” or “surrounded by ones she loved”.
When it comes to handling bereavement in Ireland we have a tendency to avoid the subject or, worse, the person who is bereaved. Sure, we may offer assistance or a ‘shoulder to cry on’ for a time but what we really want is for the person to stop grieving, stop being in pain and return to normality. Why we do this I don’t know, perhaps we don’t want our loved ones to feel pain but perhaps it is a stark reminder to us how fragile life can be.
Once the bereaved are returning to a form of normality it is assumed that they are resuming their lives but this isn’t always the case. It can take any number of months or years to release the pain of a loss. A dear friend of mine once told me how she felt lost over a year after the death of her younger brother. At this point, most people have vacated the ‘grief circle of support’ and forgotten she still needed that support.
Talking about the deceased can help, there should never be a fear around mentioning memories or names. Emotional outbursts that ensue can help the healing process. Ignoring the bereaved or the deceased will not help the situation.
According to The Irish Hospice Foundation more than 270,000 people are newly bereaved each year in Ireland. In response to this they have recently launched Europe's first website providing online training in bereavement support. The first e-learning course priced at 15 euro is called Lost for Words. There is also a DVD available for 20 euro. Here is a video about bereavement at this time of year (Christmas).
Video from Irish Hospice Foundation, Dr Susan Delaney