Tuesday 31 March 2015

Bereavement and Grief (1) | To Talk or Not to Talk

In the late 1980s, as a final year sociology undergraduate, I conducted my first piece of solo research on women’s experience of miscarriage. The title of my final dissertation thesis reflects something that was said to many of my respondents following their miscarriage: Never Mind, Better Luck Next Time. Since then I have researched and written about various aspects of loss (some of which I have previously referred to in this Blog). Whilst undertaking these projects I have met others, who like myself, have shuddered at the crassness of the well-meaning platitude (a platitude is defined as a remark or statement that is used too often to be interesting or thoughtful). Never mind, better luck . . . along with it’s for the best; at least he/she had a good innings; you can always remarry and so on and so on negates the experience of loss, of bereavement, and implies that the person(s) who experienced the loss should get over it quickly. Many people do not want; are not able do this. It is especially ironic, I think, that one of the most common platitudes is that grieving the death of a loved one ‘takes time’ and yet people are often impatient for the bereaved to ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’.

Loss and grief positions the bereaved as outsider, as stranger to ‘normal’ everyday life. Others see you as different and you feel different and it is different. The use of platitudes arise because many people are embarrassed, not least because they are unsure of what to say. It is accepted now that it is good, useful, helpful, to talk about death, prior to and after the event, but some sections of society, some people, are still playing catch up. A Dying Matters Coalition report published in December 2014 shows that almost half of us in Britain feel uncomfortable talking to the recently bereaved. Tony Walter, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at Bath University also suggests that changing, and sometimes conflicting norms around stoicism (the stiff upper lip legacy) and expressiveness (stimulated not least by the growing culture of personal revelation and confession) can lead to uncertainly over what to say to, how to behave around the bereaved. logs.bath.ac.uk/opinion/2014/12/10/talking-about-death/

On the whole though it’s better to say something rather than nothing. Bereaved people talk of their distress when others physically and metaphorically ‘cross the road’ to avoid speaking to them about their loss. A good thing to do is express sympathy and say that you’re sorry; or to indicate that you are happy to listen to, talk with, the bereaved person about the person who had died if they would like you to.

If there is one thing I have learned is that it is DIFFERENT for everyone, for all of us. There are similarities and patterns but each bereaved person is unique and the bereaved need to be treated uniquely and with patience.

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