Why is it that when we are faced with talking to a recently bereaved person we often feel a little nervous? Although death and grief are certainties in life – we will all die and we will all lose something/someone one day – there exists some collective fear of the bereaved. This is not universal of course; different societies around the world build different relationships with death and those in mourning. But in Britain at least, I have noticed and indeed been a part of the avoidance of death and all its associates.
I believe this is, in part, because someone in the throes of grief is like a walking-talking reminder of our mortality – it is somehow the closest we can get to death, without being bereaved – or dying. A bereaved person triggers a fear of facing the ultimate existential crisis – no-one can escape death.
The impact of this fear can be significant for the bereaved. If a client sits with a therapist and notices fear in their eyes, it is inevitably going to affect their sense of safety in the room with them. Equally, in daily life, with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, every time we engage with someone recently bereaved with fear in our eyes, we risk leaving them feeling even more isolated in their grief.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t need to have been bereaved ourselves in order to empathise, connect and stay present with someone in mourning. We do, however, need to confront our own fears about mortality and what that means to us. And in doing so, not only will we be better placed to support the bereaved, but we will ultimately enrich and deepen our relationship to life and the way we live it.
Annie is a Trust student and the author of We Need to Talk About Grief: How to be a friend to the one who’s left behind.” You can order your copy here: www.anniebroadbent.com