Why Is My Grief So Embarrassing?
You can often tell by the look in someone’s eyes; the looking away, the nervous turn of the head, the feelings of disconnect. You are saying something incredibly important; it is about the one you loved. But they are shuffling, fidgeting with their hands, their eyes are avoiding contact, looking everywhere else except at you. You know what is coming. Their words might not be saying it, but their body is, they hesitate and tactfully try to change the subject. You ask yourself: why do others find my grief so embarrassing?
You find that your grief has become boring. In its early stages, friends and family rush to help, saying if you need someone to talk to they will be there. Yet you notice that after a while, they are there in body but not in spirit. Somehow, they seem to have stopped caring. Friends do not call as much, relatives change the subject and colleagues cross the room to avoid you.
How can people you thought cared become so uncaring? Bereavement is a taboo subject in Western society, especially in Britain, where our natural reserve makes us uncomfortable when dealing with strong emotions. Our greatest fear, seemingly, is to be around a crying person. Sex is now liberated and openly discussed, but death has become the dark secret. People are living longer, healthier lives, child mortality has fallen and our illnesses are treatable as medical advances mean we expect to be cured, not die. The direct experience of death is less than it was in the past and it is no longer commonplace.
When confronted by loss we shy away, socially embarrassed at having to face the unfaceable. The knowledge that we will lose the people we love and eventually be lost ourselves is too much to bear. The waning of organised religion and the rise of secularism has lead to a decline in mourning rituals and the uncertainty of an afterlife. For many, modern death has a true finality about it.
Being around grief, anyone’s grief, is a reminder of one’s own mortality. Like standing too close to a fire, it burns. The bereaved feel that if people get too close to them, they too will be burnt by the pain.
When you are bereaved, time alters, it becomes slow as nothing seems to change. Yet, in contrast, it also speeds up as weeks and months sprint by but the pain remains. There is no set time or pattern for bereavement, everyone has their own time to grieve and move on. Some find a sense of understanding about their loss, while others never fully accept it. Sometimes it is not easy to see others dealing with the same process in their own individual way. Two people can suffer the same loss and be at differing stages in their grief, unable to see each other’s pain, each misunderstanding the other’s degree of suffering as a lack of respect or an inability to move on.
Bereavement can blind. The loss is all-consuming, you cannot help but think about the deceased, becoming fixated on incidents leading up to the moment of death and what could have been done to alter that dreadful event. You are plagued by the question ‘what if...?’ If you had done something different, would everything be better? These thoughts are intense, spinning around your head like a washing machine and releasing overwhelmingly powerful emotions that seem to be drowning you. Why can’t others see what is dominating your every waking moment?
Yet you cannot see others and they cannot see you. Some people have no experience of the journey. While others around you have been on a similar journey, each journey affected by their own sense of self and their relationship with the deceased. Each is grieving within their own timescale, some still in the depths of grief, others reaching an accommodation with their loss, but all in a different place. Sometimes that difference can be painful. For those in the midst of grief, another’s acceptance feels as if the deceased will be forgotten. For those who have reached acceptance, another’s grief is an unbearably painful reminder of their own journey.
People struggle and try to be helpful. But, overwhelmed by your grief, they retreat into embarrassment, offering tactless remarks in order to conceal their own and your discomfort. They genuinely do not know what to do.
So next time you are with someone whose eyes glaze over and who starts nervously shuffling when you are talking to them, try to understand what is happening to them. Do not be angry or disappointed, but try to find it in your heart to forgive.
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