Talking about grief

Rachel Callander’s daughter was two and a half years old when she passed away. In a recent interview, Rachel spoke of how she feels ‘like there’s a language of grief that people don’t understand. No one knows what to say.’

Sheryl Sandberg calls this not knowing what to say ‘the ginormous elephant sitting in the room.’ It is something that has at times consumed me – this reluctance to acknowledge grief and pain. I know that people don’t want to say the wrong thing for fear of upsetting you even more. But silence makes pain even heavier to carry.

In her interview, Rachel tells a beautiful story about a language of support that is not composed of words. Rachel and her husband went to a Coldplay concert and the last song played was ‘Yellow’. They both started to cry, because it was a song that reminded them of Evie. When Evie passed away, and Rachel didn’t know what to wear to her funeral, because nothing felt right, she decided to wear something yellow.

And every day I’ve worn something yellow. For the last seven years now. It has become a way for people to connect with my experience – because they knew this about me. They could enter into my world of grief by sharing something yellow. They would say, ‘Rach, I was walking and I found a little yellow flower and I picked it for you and Evie.’’

It was magical. And people would leave me yellow jellybeans on my desk sometimes. And there’s a friend who gave me daffodils every spring because he has a farm full of them. It’s become this language that has allowed so many people to express their love and sense of loss of Evie as well.

Although people don’t know what to say, they do want to express care. And I cannot forget how I have been touched by the generosity of the human spirit. As Parker Palmer has said:

Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

Sometimes, I can’t find the words to support those I love through their grief, and in those moments, I am simply a witness – to help them be seen, heard and companioned, exactly as it is. But we do still need to learn how to be comfortable acknowledging and talking about grief though. A simple gesture can be all that it takes.