The uncomfortable moment when people find out you lost a parent/sibling/child/ loved one at an uncommon age. Everyone who has had a ‘big loss’ knows that heart-pounding moment. The dreaded Q&A and the reaction when someone first finds out you carry around a mountain of grief like it’s a backpack.
For about the first 6 months after my mom passed away, I avoided my town. I shopped for groceries in the neighboring city and only ate takeout for six months. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want people to see me or be forced into awkward conversations.
Now I realize that the awkward conversations will never end. People will inevitability ask me questions about my parent’s occupations or what my plans are for Mother’s Day. Losing my parent, a week after my 23rd birthday is something I shouldn’t have to hide for other’s comfort. I want to talk about my mom just as much as the next person but I don’t; I don’t want to make others uncomfortable.
I sat in an interview right before Thanksgiving and the interviewer said, “I don’t know about you but my favorite tradition is cooking in the kitchen with my mom.” How do I respond without offending the other person? Oh, must be nice to have a mom (LOL sorry crude sense of humor). Instead, I just smiled and nodded. Then cried in the cab ride back to the airport.
I don’t want to lead you into a conversation where I must blatantly tell you my mom’s dead. But if we do by chance, lead down this rocky uncomfortable road of talking about someone that’s dead, let’s talk about how to respond. Let’s walk through this exercise together so we can create a more understanding world.
Situation 1: You ask a question regarding someone’s loved one that has past away.
“What do you parents do for a living?”
At that current moment, the griever will be forced to do one of two options. (1) Use past tense or (2) says that their mom has passed but their father works in IT.
Don’t Say, “Oh I’m sorry I didn’t know”
How could you know? I don’t wear a shirt that says, “Mother is dead”. Of course, you have no idea that simply asking my parents occupation would lead to this awkward conversation.
Don’t refrain from talking about your living loved one
I understand that it may be weird to talk to someone who doesn’t have a parent/child/sibling but by you saying the word “mom” I won’t instantly burst into tears. You won’t make me any sadder by telling me a story about your mom.
Here is the one the worst things about having someone you love die. It happens again every single morning –Anna Quindlen
Don’t tell me how your grandma passed away so you know what I’m going through
Unless we are level 10 friends, keep your death story to yourself. There is no comfort in telling me you’ve lost someone too. Death sucks but if you wanna try and compare grief stories lets go.
Do follow up with a question like you do if she was alive
Oh, that’s interesting that she taught. What grade did she teach? Allow me to answer a question about that person so you can gauge if it’s a hard or easy day. Some days Grievers only want to talk about their lost loved one. Some days you’ll only get a quick answer.
Do suggest that if that person wants to talk about it you’re open ears
There are certain people to this day I don’t talk about my mom around because it makes them uncomfortable. If you are a person, however, that is comfortable with talking about grief feel, free to offer an ear.
Do feel comfortable talking about that person
Talking about people that have passed is normal. Be okay with allowing someone to talk about a passed loved one without thinking it is a sad story. My mom said some pretty funny things that I’d like to reminisce and share with others without being awkward.
Situation #2: Someone is telling you a story about their loved one.
You ask a question about the person in the story and it is revealed that person passed away.
Don’t feel like you offended me
The discovery that you now know my mom is dead shouldn’t mean that you need to feel bad. You didn’t in that moment remind me. I know every morning when I wake up. By my first cup of coffee, I’ve already thought about it 3 times.
Don’t have a shocked a look on your face like it is the most heart-breaking news you’ve ever heard
My heart breaks when you can see others beginning to tear up as I tell them my mom has passed. This has happened once where when the other person found out they were stunned. As if the tragedy was happening at the current moment. Moving forward, that reaction is hard to rebound from and continue a normal conversation.
Do feel free to ask me questions about her
I want to talk about her. She was an amazing gardener, problem-solver, and mother. Again, you will not make me sad by talking about her. Pretending she never existed is harder.
Don’t begin asking exact details how that person died
Might seem like common sense but my BF lost a sister at 16 years-old. Since it is a sister, people are more open to asking questions. I’m not sure why my guess is because it’s unusual to be in your twenties and already have lost a sibling.
Do offer comfort if I start to cry
Some days are just hard. If I start to cry don’t tell me let’s just change the subject. Don’t say we just need to stop talking about it. Chance are that if I cry I’m 1) Buzzed up or 2) I really need to be comforted. Sometimes I can joke about my dad marrying my friend’s mom so we can be step-sister and other days I can’t. If I’m crying listen and just let me cry. AMERICANS, SHOWING EMOTION IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS!
I could go on for 3,000 more words about how to comfort grievers but the truth is we are all different. But from the few I’ve met the one rule remains the same: We are all trying to hold on so dearly to the memories and pretending that person never existed is harder than living without them.