We are born, we die: the only two certainties in our life. Even if we push the inevitable as far away from us as we can, it does arrive. We may not yet have experienced bereavement close up but at some time in our lives we will need to know what can be most helpful to a close friend or more distant acquaintance.
Billy, Me & You by Nicola Streeten is published by Turnaround £11.99 or www.guardian.co.uk/bookshop Written 16 years after the death of her son this book has a distance and fuller perspective than you’d normally suppose. She talks of the reaction of others towards her as well as her own process of grieving. If we have no intimate experience of death this perspective could help us all as we have to come to terms with death being part of our lives, even if today everything is done to distance that fact from us.
So what is our reaction? What do we do or say? Do we cross to the other side of the road to avoid talking to someone who has been bereaved? Probably the best answer to the question, “what do I say or do?” is to ask yourself, what would I like to hear from others?
This book talks about stages of mourning following a loss, not just the grief, but despair, guilt, self doubt, self pity, rage, the arrogance of grief, the intolerance of others, the extent of awkwardness there is around death. It talks also of what someone doesn’t want to hear, such as; I understand what you must be going through. You don’t. My friend’s wife/husband….. Not relevant to the other, only to yourself.
As well as the loss of a person, there is loss of a job, security and money, loss through divorce, loss of self worth. Can we feel compassion for those around us who have suffered such losses? Perhaps we are moving into a decade when it will be easier and necessary for us to feel compassion for our neighbours. In times of plenty we can think they make their own suffering, in these times of economic depression perhaps we can think more generously towards others and so be able to say a small kind word. But most of all, perhaps not be tempted to Ignore the problem or the person.