By Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
Sometimes I think I need to wear a t-shirt that says, Be Kind to me, my mom just died. It seems that as I walk around, unable to focus, my heart broken from sorrow and sadness, life all around me goes on as if nothing is different. That might be true for the rest of the world, yet at this time in my life, it’s not true for me. I feel like I want someone to stop the merry-go-round just for a while, so I can catch my breath.
Have you ever tried to put milk in the cupboard? Um, milk doesn’t go in the cupboard, it goes in the refrigerator. When we are grieving, we don’t behave “normal” at least according to the functioning world. That’s because we aren’t “normal”, we are bereaved, and we are grieving the death of someone we love. Normal tasks are not done as easily as before the death. In the Bakken-Young grief groups, one consistent conversation reoccurs; why can’t people see that I am grieving and recognize my pain? Every single human being we pass by today is fighting to “keep it together” or “be strong” without breaking down in front of the grocery clerk or co-worker, or at the school play. Maybe they aren’t mourning the sudden, tragic passing of a parent, but wounded, exhausted, pain-ravaged people are everywhere, everyday stumbling all around us—and yet most of the time we’re fairly oblivious to them.
Symbolic Expressions of Grief
Years ago people wore black armbands or wore black for a year so that there was a visual expression on the outside, that something significant was occurring on the inside. Culturally, we spent at least two days on the rituals for the dead, a visitation one evening with the funeral service the next day. Afterward, a period of mourning was the norm, as was wearing black. It seems the world today expects us to function as if nothing ever happened.
Many of us are grieving, fearful and scared, and not one of us is wearing the t-shirt, Be Kind to me, my mom just died. In the absence of these obvious signs, how would someone know we are grieving? On the outside, other than some dark circles around our eyes, we look normal. On the inside, you can’t see the shattered heart we carry every day, or the shaking that grips us at times, or the flood of tears in thinking of going to the empty house. Perhaps it is the task of all of us, to look a little deeper, be a little more gentle and kind, and offer some gesture of thoughtfulness.
Take Another Look
Please look a little closer. Take out your earbuds, put down your cell phone, look into my eyes. You will eventually see the brokenness in my heart, if you are willing to take the time. Of course, why should you care about me? Because we are still a community of people. I am your sister or brother, friend, child, co-worker, husband, wife, etc. There are many like me out in the world, those of us struggling to get out of bed in the morning because the sadness prevented sleeping, or those of us who have no energy because we sorrow fills our souls(at least temporarily). I want you to be kind to me because it’s what I need right now and I hope some day, if you need it, that’s what I will offer you too.
I’m trying to function normally in a world that no longer, looks, feels or acts normal to me. It’s not you though, it’s me. So when I try to put the milk in the cupboard, or shake uncontrollably, or struggle to stay awake, or occasionally make a mistake, be kind to me, my mom just died.
Coalition News, Quarterly Newsletter of the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support, Everyone Around You is Grieving. Go Easy. by John Pavlovitz, Vol. 41 No. 1, Since 1977…Education and Support for Those Providing Care to Grieving Persons, March 2019.
Handbook of Thanatology, 2nd Ed, David K. Meagher and David E. Balk, Editors, New York, NY, Routledge, 2013, p. 135.
Bereavement – a term most often applied to the situations of individuals who have experienced death-related losses
Grief – term that identifies reactions to loss, applies to all the human reactions to loss: physical, behavioral, psychological, social or spiritual
Mourning – all of the intrapsychic and interpsychic processes of coping or learning to live with the loss and grief, or social public, or ritualized responses to loss.