by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
Daily, a friend would preface leaving her house with the phrase, “I have to put my face on,” which was her way of saying, I have to put my make-up on. Though that is not usually the case with our grief, we “put on a face” before heading on with our day. Often, that face is a mask we wear as we grieve, a mask that tells the world, I’m alright, even if I am not.
A mask allows us to be what we want to be, no one can see what’s behind it. Early in our grief, that mask is slipped on before leaving our home. On the inside we may be a mess, on the outside our masks says something else. One of the bereaved put it this way, “I need to pretend I’m ok.” That’s how it feels when we put on that face, that mask, especially immediately after a death. Our face says to the world, I’m going to try to be normal, even when nothing around me is normal now.
Changing Our Mask as We Grieve
Sometimes we take our masks off, hoping someone notices, hoping someone sees our real face, while at other times when that mask comes down, it remains down because wearing it is physically exhausting. Sometimes that masks comes down and we don’t want anyone to say a word. When someone does notice that our mask is down, and says something to us, we have to choose how to respond. We can be gracious and thank them for asking or for their concern, and let them know that we prefer not to talk right now, or the opposite, that we would like to talk now and would they have some time? Let them know that what you need most, at this present time, is to talk, and ask them to listen.
Putting on our face for the day, or wearing a mask, is natural after a death and as we begin to re-engage with the world around us. Be sure too, to take the mask off at times, allowing ourselves the time and space to engage with our grief. In this way, we continue to engage in the world around us, rediscovering our role and identity and the possibilities for the future.