Coping With Grief Part 4: How to Talk About Death
My name is Claire and I’m a Customer Experience Manager at Bare Cremation.
Two years ago, my husband was suddenly and traumatically taken from me. This ever-present fixture in my life was suddenly gone. After going through grief myself, I wanted to share my story. So I’ve put together this eight-part series about coping with loss and bereavement based on my personal experiences with grief.
As a society, we’re not great at dealing with death and grief. At Bare, we want to change this. In this fourth article in the series, I’ll talk about how to start conversations about grief.
Talking about our grief is hard, particularly because we feel so isolated in it. You may feel as though your life has stopped and everyone else’s life is still happening. You don’t want to burden people with your pain or you feel like they wouldn’t understand or are not even willing to be there for you.
The climate we live in here in the Western world is currently centred around this belief that talking about death/hardship/pain is taboo and that we should focus on the happier more positive components of life. This way of thinking serves no one. Avoiding the unpleasant is unsustainable. We, the bereaved, need to help shift this.
Why do we need to talk about grief?
We need to talk about grief because death, grief, loss and pain is not discriminative and happens to each and every one of us.
Being a bereaved person willing to share and talk about our experience – while outwardly feeling shunned – helps not only us, but everyone. It has become almost our duty to start having these conversations, however awkward.
Talking about grief helps us to maintain connections with the people in our life. And the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we’ll be as a community and as a society.
Talking about our grief helps us process it. And without this, we won’t integrate it. Processing doesn’t mean that it pushes the grief away forever, it means that as a human being, we will be able to better adapt to life without what we have lost. Think of it like a wound that doesn’t heal vs a wound that heals but leaves a scar. Which would you prefer?
What are the barriers to grief and how do we overcome them?
We don’t want to make people uncomfortable
Firstly, you might be worried about making people uncomfortable. This should never be a reason not to talk to people when you need to. I honestly think the best way to overcome this is to stop assuming that you know how another person would feel. You don’t know, so why take away an opportunity for them to be there for you, based on an assumption?
We don’t know what we need
Secondly, we might not know what we need from the people around us. Grief can impact our ability to identify these things. You might find that writing a list of the things that would make your life easier is a helpful place to start. Are there things that maybe someone else can do for you right now? For example, house chores, driving kids to school, walking the family pet.
The bottom line is that people actually do want to help, but they don’t always know how to. Even though looking at you for direction can be the most frustrating thing right now, guiding people in ways to help you will benefit everyone.
My experience of this came almost six months after my husband died. Everyone else had gone back to their normal lives, yet I was fueled by constant anxiety and fear. I found it difficult to be the only adult in the house and also difficult to be alone. Even though it felt extremely awkward, I asked my community if they would rotate staying over at my house for a period of weeks. I also had my friend drive me around to do my errands with me. People drove me from regional Victoria to Melbourne and stayed with me nights.
Thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes. People jumped to help me and through that it allowed conversations to happen. I found out how much Garryn’s death had also impacted them. We all cried and it brought our community even closer.
You don’t have the words to describe what you’re feeling
Thirdly, you might feel as though you don’t have the words to describe what you’re thinking and feeling. This can be really difficult, particularly if you and the people around you aren’t used to having discussions about your feelings. The reality is though, you do not need to be a philosopher about this. If you’re finding life tough, just say that. Be brutally honest.
Tips to help get the grief conversation started
- Do something while you talk. It could be going for a walk with someone or cooking food with people. The key here is to be open to engagement. You might be amazingly surprised by who it is in your community that allows you to open up. Perhaps you like playing board games or going for a walk. Talking “shoulder to shoulder” can be a lot easier than face to face. This is especially true with teenagers and men in particular.
- Write things down. Get those thoughts out of your head, write someone a letter or journal entry. This can help to work out what you want to say, to whom and how.
- Start small. Having open conversations about grief doesn’t mean sitting face to face with someone for an hour. It might just be admitting that you’ve had a rough day. It can be saying that you miss the person, out loud. Sometimes for me, it’s saying Garryn’s name in conversations, a recognition of “Yes, that did happen. He is now dead.”
- If you’re not a talker, don’t pressure yourself into talking a lot. There will be other ways for you to express your grief. Just be aware of whether there are particular things that you need to say.
- Begin to open up. You can start by saying: “I feel…” or “I need…”.
- If you’re struggling, consider seeing a counsellor. It’s ok to not be OK. Really. If you need professional help, that’s completely normal, and you should seek out the services of a counsellor.
In this eight-part Coping With Grief series, I’m going to share with you what I learnt about having healthy conversations – with yourself, your friends, your kids. I share some advice for those on the other side of grief on how you can be a good friend, a good partner and a good human.
You can read my other articles in the series including 5 Biggest Grief Myths Busted and The Day My World Changed Forever. Look out for the other articles in the series coming soon. We’ve also compiled a list of useful bereavement, grief counselling and other support services across Australia here.
All information provided is general in nature. For additional information relating to advance care planning, please speak to your health professional for advice about your specific circumstances. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, call 000. For Lifeline’s Crisis Counselling service call 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.
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About Bare Cremation
Bare Cremation is Australia’s most affordable, and least traditional, funeral director. Our mission is to ensure every Australian has the option of an affordable, seamless and stress-free funeral service that can be arranged online or over the phone in minutes, at a fraction of the price of traditional funeral homes. We’ve cut out the need to go to a funeral home and made a complicated process simple by offering an affordable, transparent and easy alternative. Find out more by visiting the Bare Cremation website.