We are encouraged to be more open and honest about death these days: to make “living wills” about our own end of life and to be truthful with patients facing a terminal illness.
This month of November is a season of commemoration of the dead – beginning with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, moving on to the poppy-wearing emblems recalling the war dead. We often see pictures of the Mexican Day of the Dead, a huge national event there.
And yet, when it comes to condolences after a death, bereaved people can still feel hurt by the silence with which a loss is met. A friend of mine who lost her adult daughter in very sad circumstances tells me that in her small town in the south-east of England, neighbours still crossed the road rather than approach her to offer their condolences.
Her own friends and family have been supportive, yet she’s often found herself alone in her home, and no one has called around to offer their time and presence. To his credit, the vicar who conducted the funeral did subsequently telephone to ask how she was coping, though he doesn’t live locally. And so, indeed, a churchman should.
I realise that in England people can feel embarrassed, or not know what to say, or even avoid a bereaved person as a way of respecting their privacy. It isn’t always because they don’t care.
But if social attitudes are becoming more open towards death, then we should be made aware that it’s really important to offer condolence to the bereaved and even to offer companionship in their grief. You only have to say “I’m sorry for your loss”; anything, indeed, rather than avoidance, or silence.
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