I have been accused of being extremely insular, thinking only of myself first and then of others, during times of stress and conflict, including when someone dies. While a feeling of sadness is universal, the next set of reactions is typically…Should I call? Or will an SMS be good enough? Do I need to drop everything now and go to the funeral? Can I wait till the prarthana? I hope the venue and time are convenient. Or should I just wait for a week and meet them later?
Despite having seen so much death at close quarters professionally, when it comes to the death of someone I know or his/her relative, I have generally tried to run away from the situation. I find it difficult to go to a prarthana if I don’t really know someone well, and for many years I have had no clue what to say to those who have lost people. I worry about asking the same repetitive questions and sounding shallow and saying the wrong things or putting my foot in my mouth and ever so often, I have taken shelter behind SMSes and emails.
But guess what!
Except for those who create a scene by crying like professional mourners and those who just talk without listening, every little act of reaching out helps. And it doesn’t matter how you do it…just do it!
Initially, I used to find SMSes and WhatsApp to be highly impersonal. But if physically getting to someone is practically difficult, something like “Sorry for your loss. Hope God gives you the strength to endure”, even if it sounds boilerplate, works. More importantly, it also tells the grieving person that you are aware of the situation.
Whenever and wherever possible, a phone call is a good thing, especially if you know the person. We often think it may be inappropriate to call, for a variety of reasons…and we are often afraid of being a cause of interruption. But these are usually our own self-created, false perceptions. Even if the person can’t pick up, usually someone else will and relay the message. And there is no time limit to when you can call. Recently, I found out about the death of a close friend’s father a month after the event, and I immediately picked up the phone on a busy morning. He spoke to me for 30 minutes, both of us finding it cathartic, while letting our patients wait just a little longer.
Not everyone has the luxury to drop everything immediately and rush to the funeral or the home to pay one’s last respects. Even attending the prarthana may be difficult. A home visit in the next few days then is not a bad idea. Usually, at least for a few days after, people expect visitors usually over the nearest weekend and make it a point to be at home to greet those who come by. And unless the atmosphere is really “heavy”, it is also not bad form to smile and perhaps even crack a light joke or two.
And if you are really close, you can just hang around whenever possible, taking care of small tasks here and there, or if you are a long distance away, call and say that you are just one phone call away, anytime…all these make a huge difference.
The point is. While we may find it difficult to know what to say to those who have just suffered a loss, for those who are grieving, no support is too less…even if it is delayed. It is all just about “being there”!