I’m asking people what’s been helpful after they’ve lost a loved one.
(The survey is still open.) But I realized that I can be helpful by sharing what I learn even as I’m gathering responses.
One of the research questions is, “What do you wish someone had said?”
And one of the themes I’m seeing already is that people wish that someone would say, “Tell me about your mom (or dad or friend).”
I think that part of this is because we want the loss to be acknowledged. We want to know that people have not forgotten.
But part of this is, I think, because we want to tell their stories while the loss is fresh, while we are acutely aware of what is slipping away from us.
Some of us (not all) feel a deep need to help someone, including ourselves, understand that this lifeless body once made people laugh, loved to help others, had the kind of stories that you would never tell a chaplain. This person was the crankiest dad, the most hilarious sister. This person struggled their whole life, driving past the police station on a motorcycle, waving, with everyone knowing his license had been suspended. This person loved cheesecake, but could only eat a taste yesterday. This person always welcomed all of our friends, especially when they weren’t welcomed in their own home.
This person, this body, wasn’t always a patient.
Most of the time when I stand by a bed or sit with a family, I haven’t had a conversation with the person who just died. I have no idea what they were like. Or what they liked. Or how they handled the adversity that brought us to this conversation.
I can, in that moment, say “I’m sorry” and move on to the paperwork. But
when the loss is in my healthcare facility where the people around never knew this person, giving an opportunity to tell stories will give permission for the process of remembering that will last as long as the people in the room.
What’s a little scary to me is that the people wishing we would ask this question are giving voice to a gap in their experience. I’m grateful they are telling us about the need. I’m grateful some of them are telling us about their mom.
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