I had earlier written on How Do You Reach Out to Someone Grieving in the First Few Weeks of Mourning? Where I took you on a journey through the first few weeks following the death of my spouse, Chidinma. I focused on the phone calls and offered some suggestions that you may find helpful when reaching out to someone mourning the death of a loved one, especially in the early days and weeks.
It is universally known that the death of a loved one, whether expected or sudden, also triggers grief and mourning among the circle of friends, families and acquaintances. What usually happens in the early weeks following the death of a loved one is the avalanche of phone calls, text messages, visitations (prior to Covid -19) and social media mourning.
What happens to the communication with the bereaved days, weeks, and months after the funeral of their loved one?
I want to share my thoughts and offer suggestions that both you and anyone bereaved may find helpful as they learn to rebuild their lives.
Now that the funeral was over, there was no event or activity to distract my grief. It had begun to slowly sink in that my loved one wasn’t returning. The weight of loneliness mixed with other grief weights was unbearable. It felt like the heaviness tore the muscles in my body, leaving me exhausted and in aches, both physically and mentally.
It also felt like a broadcast message that read “you can now stop reaching out” had been sent to everyone who had previously reached out because the volume of communication fell off the cliff immediately after the funeral. It was as if it shifted from the height of a 2 storey building to a drip of water from a leaking tap.
In the days and weeks after the funeral, it felt like my life was in slow motion while I stood at a bus stop. I watched others carry on with their lives like when you watch a movie at twice its normal speed.
I love a biblical concept, which one can apply to different circumstances of everyday living. On this occasion, it’s the concept of three concentric circles or concentric shapes of your choice. It’s about the outer court, inner court and holy of holies as classified in the bible.
For this post, I will focus on the categories of people mourning and grieving with you in regards to these classifications.
We can say outer courts could be those the bereaved person may not know but have heard of the death of their loved one and have been affected by it or those you say hello to, who don’t know anything about you and may not know your house.
The inner court could be acquaintances, those who may have your personal contact number and may be invited into your house.
Holy of holies are those you consider friends and are no strangers to your house and have fridge access; they don’t have to ask you before taking anything from your fridge.
Relationships are dynamic and not static; people can move into or out of each concentric circle. I will share more on this topic in another post.
There’s not much expectation from people in the outer and inner court. However, there’s a level of expectation from anyone who may be in the ‘holy of holies’ circle.
I don’t think people intentionally stop reaching out to those bereaved after the funeral; I’d like to believe that any of the following may have contributed;
They became busy and unconsciously forgot.
They assumed that the bereaved had enough support and didn’t want to be a burden?
They didn’t forget, the bereaved was always on their mind, but they were concerned about the awkwardness of the conversation.
Besides the above, what may have also been a significant contributor could be the impact of the pandemic on various circles of friends and families.
It felt like the pandemic robbed those of us grieving the attention we deserved and left the network support of family and friends exhausted, as they found themselves sporadically comforting and supporting other newly bereaved people simultaneously.
In short, we were all grieved out. I join many bereaved to applaud and share gratitude to the network of family, friends and acquaintances who sacrificially communicate and stand by those of us grieving the death of our loved one.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in our own personal troubles, and during the pandemic, it seemed like personal issues multiplied for a number of us. Hence, I acknowledge the fact that reaching out would have required more sacrifice on the part of family, friends and acquaintances as they had other issues going on in their lives too.
May I leave you with the following thoughts and questions?
On hearing about the death of a loved one, I wonder what it would look and feel like if you could spread out and maintain the energy, communication and support over an extended period?
Can you imagine if it were possible to structure how someone grieving could be communicated with and supported? Say in the first six months following the death of their loved one? Can you imagine which role you could play? How long could you support them?
What would it look like if you followed the nudge to reach out to someone grieving to check in on them? Or set a regular date and time in your calendar to check-in, like you would a coffee date or appointment. What would it look like if you asked for feedback about the message you sent or a better way to communicate with the bereaved person.
We all have so much going for us. Life waits for no one; I wonder what communicating with some bereaved would look like if we used the technology tools at our disposal to remind us more.
What could the coordination of a network of support look like? Which technology tools could you use to help? How could you ensure that visitation to the bereaved isn’t overwhelming?
What would it look like if we entered the date, we heard about the death of someone that we felt affected by in our calendar and set a regular check-in reminder in our phones to reach out to their bereaved?
Imagine your phone reminding you say once every six weeks to check in either via text or by phone call to say hello and let them know that you’re still thinking about them.
It may sometimes appear that we, the bereaved, have ignored your messages or phone calls. It may seem that you are not getting the proper response. On the contrary, I have found some messages soothing and have gone back to them to reassure me.
The fear of an awkward conversation is valid, but remember that it is okay because both of you are learning how to relate to life after losing a loved one. Like riding a bicycle, it takes time and practice. It may appear mechanical at first and would become second nature with intentionality and time. What has been perfected that didn’t start off as mechanical?
Please remember to stay in touch with the grieving person, periodically checking in, dropping by, sending messages or inviting them to activities.
Especially in the days and weeks after the funeral, when the mourners have gone, and the shock from the loss has worn off, your support is more valuable than ever. You would be surprised at how much your check-ins mean to a friend who is grieving. Knowing that someone cares about you and your pain can be quite reassuring.
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.