COLUMN: ‘Sorry for your loss’ isn’t enough

I HAVE a friend who is English and he often says that he does not understand what he considers Irish people’s obsession with wakes and funerals.

He thinks that we overdo the whole death thing and he is much more in favour of the low-key, private way that the English deal with death. He may have a point, while we might be good at going to wakes and funerals, there is a danger that when we have attended the wake, we think that we have done our bit. We may not be so good at supporting someone in the weeks and months after the funeral when they might need our help more. It is easy to shake hands with someone at a funeral and say: “Sorry for your loss.” It is a lot more difficult to support someone who is grieving.

Losing someone that we love is one of the most difficult things that we will face in life and there is no easy path through it. Everybody grieves differently and there is no fixed pattern. It is a case of stumbling through a maze of sadness and hoping that you will find a life that is worth living, without the person who has died. One thing for sure is that grief goes on longer than you expect, it never fully goes away, it changes and moves through different stages and you will become a different person as you adjust to life without your loved one. It can be overwhelming; it affects every aspect of your life and can even cause physical pain.

One simple way that we can help people who are grieving is to offer practical support, like inviting them for some food or cutting their lawn. There was a lovely piece of writing in the recent series ‘Blue Lights’ when one of the characters was talking about his wife’s death. He said: “At the start, you cook too much because you were used to cooking for two. But make sure to freeze the extra portions because a time will come when you don’t feel like cooking or eating at all.”

There is a myth that after the first year, it will get easier, yet I have heard people say that the second year is even more difficult because people assume that you have got over it and you have not and you never will, you adapt. One person told me: “Friends can be in a hurry to see you move out of your pain, but there’s no quick fix.”

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