Go First, Say Their Name

After you’ve lost someone you love, you may find—or find yourself mad about—other people’s unwillingness to talk about the person who died. It can seem like other people don’t care about your pain, or that they’re content carrying on as if nothing happened. But often the reality is that they have no idea where to begin and they have no idea what you’re willing or able to talk about.

husband missing on front stepWe all assume that a person who has just lost a loved-one is emotionally fragile, so we walk on eggshells, trying to avoid unleashing an uncomfortable emotional situation. If we talk about your husband, will you burst out crying? And what in the world would happen if we said his name out loud? Is this the right time or place?

It’s not that people want to forget your loved-one or pretend they never existed (which is how it can feel) but they usually avoid the topic, ironically, to make you feel more comfortable. But the catch is, the more people avoid or ignore your loss the more isolated, awkward or even angry you feel.

So, here’s the recourse. Go first.

grief helpBe the first one to bring up your husband and how he would’ve loved this Fourth of July party because hot dogs were his absolute favorite. Or tell the hilarious story of the time your sister Diane dropped a fresh-made pie on the kitchen floor. If you talk about your lost loved-one in the context of the conversation, and say their name out loud, it lets other people know that you’re okay talking about them and gives folks permission to do the same.

This isn’t a fool-proof method. Some people will shrink at the mention of an uncomfortable topic no matter what, and that’s okay. You can’t control their reaction, but at least you can know that you tried.

two-men-hugging.jpgWith your grief, you’ve got enough of a burden and you shouldn’t have to be strapped with the additional responsibility of making it easier for others to interact with you, but if you can go first and offer this bit of grace to your friends and family, it can easily pay dividends in conversation that acknowledges your loved-one and your loss.


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5 thoughts on “Go First, Say Their Name

  1. I lost my adult son to his alcohol addiction in October. But no matter who I talk to or how I try to think I still believe it was my fault because I wasn’t a good enough mother.

    1. Hey Rebecca, I’m so sorry you’re in pain. Alcoholism is a disease, I know it can be hard for us to see it that way, but if you imagined your son had succumbed to a different terminal illness would you still feel the same sort of responsibility? And if you believe unwaveringly that it is your fault (which I don’t believe it is, but I’m not gonna to tell you how to feel), then you have to find a way to accept that and gradually begin to forgive yourself.

  2. You shouldn’t blame yourself.

    I lost my 32 year old son in a tragic commuter train accident on February 1st. His wife then gave birth to their first child, a girl on February 8th.

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