I really want to talk about Toby, not so much about how he died but I don’t mind talking about that either. I really want you to ask me not ‘How are you?’ but ‘How are you coping at the moment?’
I want my friends to acknowledge that my son died and that just because I bounce into the room all smiles telling them about my latest project, looking good, it doesn’t mean I am not crippled inside with grief.
Am I being self-centred and unreasonable? Well possibly. Just because I am forever changed I can appreciate that others may not want to hear or read about death and suicide, but therein lies the problem.
As a society we are terrified and uncomfortable with talking about the dark stuff, cancer, brain tumours, murder, and suicide. So when it happens to a close friend how the heck do you handle it?
When you phone me or see me instead of asking ‘How are you?’ ask ‘How are you coping at the moment?’ subtle difference but the latter acknowledges my grief and what has happened. The first question is difficult for me to answer as I want to yell ‘How the heck do you think I am – my son died 6 months ago’ The second one gives me the opportunity to tell you that I spent Sunday afternoon looking at photos and crying, but that I am doing OK today thanks.
Say to me ‘Do you want to talk about Toby?’ I can then say ‘Yes, that would be lovely’ or ‘Not right now, but thank you for asking’
Say ‘I haven’t talked to you about Toby’s death because I didn’t want to upset you, but you know I will if you want to’
Say ‘I am so frightened of saying the wrong thing and I can’t know how you feel, but I know you are in pain and I want to help if I can, so just tell me what you need.
Phone me up and say something like ’ I was just thinking of Toby the other day and remembering that time when you brought him to my son’s party and he had his face painted as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, it was so funny and I still have the photos of that day’ Do you want me to send you one?
Practically every other person I have spoken to who has suffered this kind of loss has echoed the same sentiment. That is how it hurts that no one mentions our child’s name any more. I do understand that this is not done intentionally and the irony is that they think they are protecting us from hurt but the opposite is true.
This poem expresses it beautifully
Yet we squeeze by with,
‘How are you?” and “I’m fine.”
and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about everything else –
except the elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all, but we do not talk about
the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his death,
Perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say, “Toby” to you
And not have you look away?
For if I cannot,
Then you are leaving me alone
In a room – with an elephant.
** the author of the poem was Terry Kettering and I have substituted ‘her’ and ‘Barbara’ with ‘his’ and ‘Toby’
For other useful ways to talk about and remember a loved one click here