I have so far mainly focused on the bereaved, also known as either the primary mourner or chief mourner. I have spent some time sharing my thoughts and emotions from the perspective of the bereaved with the hope my journey encourages and gives permission to anyone grieving the loss of their loved one to engage in the grieving process.
For this post, I’ll like to share my thoughts on encouraging siblings and the support network of friends and families to engage in the grieving process following the death of their loved one.
Usually, when the death of a loved one occurs, the natural tendency is to focus on those directly affected. Close friends and family go into survival mode and deliver support. They tend to part their own grief and mainly focus attention on the bereaved spouse or bereaved parents.
I am not suggesting that this isn’t the right thing to do. In fact, those directly affected must receive the care, love and support needed to help them re-enter life. I know this because I have benefited from the sacrificial and generous support of others who were also grieving. These grievers could experience delayed grief if they don’t process their own grief.
In relation to this, there is a question that has been running through my mind, just like a toddler escaping bath time; “does the support networks of family and friends grieve the death of a loved one?”
Chidinma and I have been blessed with a fantastic network of friends and families. After the death of my loved one, I watched in humility and amazement at how a selected few have dedicated their lives literally to help the children and me as we grieve, learn to pick the shattered pieces and cautiously re-enter life.
I watched these guys show up, and they are still showing up.
I remember going on one of my usual extended walks through different tranquil terrains of woodlands, fields, and farms that could last for 3 hours. I rarely meet people on these walks; on a busy afternoon or evening, I would meet 2 people max. It was a surprisingly British sunny afternoon.
British summers are unpredictable. I fondly say to friends that the worst curse that can be placed on anyone is for that individual’s life to be like the British summer. It’s irregular, and it’s possible to experience four seasons in a day or week. One minute it is super beautiful and sunny; the next minute could be windy, the next minute could be hailstone snow and the next minute rain.
We are fortunate if we get a two weeks spell of sunshine. In 2020 summer in England was sunny. Could it be that the English summer is shy and doesn’t like when there are too many people outside?
I digressed a bit, back to the story.
On this particular walk, I spent about 30 minutes walking through a large onion farm. I had never seen an onion plant before, let alone a large onion farm. “Before you judge me, have you seen an onion farm before?” Lol.
I ran my hands through the onion ‘leaves’ and felt the soft texture as I admired the green leaves and the white stems. I began to wonder when I become a farmer; because somehow I want to be (a story for another day). What type of farmer would I want to be?
I remember my admiration of the onion farm being interrupted with the question that popped into my mind. The question was, “how are our closest friends and families grieving the death of our loved one Chidinma? And which bits were they finding most challenging?”
I began to visualise each of these individuals who were sacrificially showing up. All of them travelled at least twice weekly to support us. Some of these guys would travel 5 hours round trip.
With that thought, I invited each one imaginatively to join me on my walk. Like in the movies, each person teleported to where I was as I walked through the farms. Each person I thought of appeared as vivid as the daylight. They appeared seamlessly in true Hollywood special effect style; just to clarify again, think Hollywood, not Nollywood.
I compassionately asked each person the same question that intruded my thoughts. “___Name of friend__ in what ways are you mourning and grieving the death of our loved one Chidinma? And which bits are you finding most challenging?”
It wasn’t a question to catch anyone out but see where I can help and also to, for lack of a better word, ‘to assure them that it’s okay to mourn and grieve the loss of Chidinma even with me.’ Almost like you have my permission not be be ‘together’ or composed in my presence.
What I found fascinating about this particular walk was that it felt like I was watching a movie as I imaginatively invited each friend or family to join me. Let me play it out for you. Let’s call this friend Michael.
I gradually began introducing the conversation by dancing around the question like what some of us do when we have something bothering our heart. I eventually got to ask the question.
I said, “Michael, in what ways are you mourning and grieving the death of our loved one Chidinma?” As Michael walked with me, instead of Michael responding to my question, what I saw was a replay of him each time he visited me. I saw from the moment he came into the house, to our meals together up to the time we said our goodbye by his car as he drove back home.
I suppose this ‘waking dream’ experience prepared me to have conversations with my circle of siblings, friends and families about their grief and mourning experience. It felt like I had had rehearsals of the awkward conversations before truly having them. It made me more attentive to their body language and, in a sense, aware of their feelings too.
I began to see how stoic they were in my presence; they handled me delicately like an egg. I saw their sacrifice to prefer me above themselves. I saw frown lines on some of them. I saw the grief in their eyes too. There is something about the eyes that gives one away.
I had the opportunity in real life to take some of my family and friends on short walks and others on average walks. The short walks are about an hour thirty minutes long, and the average walk is about two hours forty minutes long.
On these walks, we unpacked some of their thoughts. Some of my friends haven’t been back walking with me since then. Do you think it was the conversation or the journey length that has put them off?
It turns out that some of them after driving for hours, arrive and sit in the car for up to thirty minutes; to brace, psych/ginger themselves before coming to the door. Some creatively played the visit scenario in their heads before arriving.
Our conversations were deep and I saw some sighs of relief as we were able to discuss how they were processing their grief.
I think it’s also essential for those of us who are primary mourners to
Check-in on our core support team. I found most of them were on autopilot and survival mode. They were not processing their grief, which isn’t healthy and can lead to delayed grief.
Give them a safe space to express their grief and remind them that it’s okay for them to grieve even in your presence.
You also can open this conversation by asking, “___Name of friend__ how are you mourning and grieving the death of our loved one? And which bit are you finding most challenging?”
There’s a saying that a family that prays together stays together. I want to add that the community that grieves together not only stays together but grows together. It reminds me that we are a community of brokenness held together in the hands of God.
I am interested in sharing stories from the perspective of someone supporting those bereaved. Please let me know if you’re interested in sharing as I am sure that there are lessons that those of us bereaved and learn from you.
Please let me know if you would like to share your story or forward this blog to someone who may be interested in sharing their story. I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that's your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text "I would like to share my story."
To Be Continued Next Wednesday...
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below? Thank you.