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September 21, 2015

Why Bereavement Calls for More than a Text.

Texting, David Vespoli, Flickr

I love texting.

It’s a snappy way to get in touch. It streamlines communication and it’s oh-so immediate. I enjoy the xxx and the xox that often arrives with a beep. The smiley and grumpy faces are fun. So what’s not to love about texting?

I’ll tell you.

My Dad died last year.

It wasn’t a shock. He was old and ill and it was his time to go, but even so I found myself crumpled up in the kitchen chair.

I shuffled to and from the kettle, sighed, cried and clutched balls of damp tissues. He’s my Dad, after all. My karma. My ancestry. My DNA. And even though our relationship was beyond tough, I loved him. So I was stunned when many good friends chose to contact by texting me.

“Sorry about your loss xox”.

“Sorry about your dad. Hope you’re doing ok”.

Brief, unobtrusive and to the point.

My phone didn’t ring—it beeped. Feeling alone just got stronger. I needed to feel that my friends cared. More than a 10 second text worth.

Maybe they thought I was handling it; I am a life guide after all and emotionally pretty capable. But that’s not the point. The point is ask me.

“How are you Dettra?”

It revealed itself as the most important yet hugely avoided question that can even be asked by SMS.

That would be helpful to me along with sympathy and regret. Perhaps the answer seemed too obvious. I was grief bitten and lousy—that was a given. Is that why the question was dodged?

Asking isn’t easy. Asking means being there if I crack it and cry and tell you I’m wrecked and devastated. Being with a friend in pain is hard.

When I’ve been in the support role I’ve felt awkward and inadequate, I’ve wanted so much to ease the agony, searched for words and ways.

But loss belongs to the bereaved. Nobody can make it better and nobody need try.

So can we just be there and hold a loving space without trying to fix it? A friend who can just hang out with the pain (and refrain from trying to happy it up) is gold.

“I’ll light a candle for your dad.”

“Best wishes for your dad’s next reincarnation.”

“Soooo good you had that time with him before he died.”

Thank you. And yes.

But why all said on text?

Maybe my friends didn’t want to intrude. That’s sensitive. I get it. I don’t want to have a go at anybody. Really. Death is damn awkward and I’ve been clumsy with it too. We all grieve differently and I’ve been that person, chewing my cheek, wondering.

Should I call now? Should I wait? I don’t want to intrude but I want to connect. Does she want to talk? Does she want space? Should I pop round? When? What if I do or say something clumsy that makes it more difficult?

So I am sure these tender questions were there when my friends chose SMS.

Grief is a heavy weight that consumes its host. I couldn’t explain to anyone who wasn’t asking how I felt. And I utterly lost the ability to reach out.

I don’t think bereavement is best handled alone.

In these times when families can be scattered across continents and countries, we don’t always travel back for funerals. We might need the people around us because we are adrift from the others that are feeling the feelings and doing the grieving.

We may devise our own parting ceremonies and do them in our living rooms. I didn’t go back to England for my Dad’s funeral. Instead, I elected to spend two months with him in his dying process. I was in Australia when he died.

I talked constantly on the phone to my family; I spoke to my brothers about the texts. It wasn’t just me. They had also received plenty and felt them to be very impersonal too.

Like much in life, experience aids empathy. So may I impart the wisdom gained?

If you elect to send a text message when your friend is grieving, here are my suggestions:
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Texting is a valid way to make contact without feeling you’re intruding. But. Please don’t just say “Sorry about your loss” or similar. I felt really shut down by this kind of communication. Instead, please ask about the person as well. Add another sentence and make sure it’s a question: “How are you feeling?” “Would you like to talk?” Or be really concrete. “I will bring food round after work. See you at 5.30.”

Please don’t say in your text, “Let me know if you need anything.” I am 99.9% sure your friend won’t contact you. First, because they probably can’t reach out and, second, because they may have no clue about what you need. So take the reins.

Please don’t say, “I hope you’re okay or similar.” Ask. Even if it’s harder because that person might say, “I am not okay.” Please make your text an initial point of contact. Not the only contact.

Follow up with an actual phone call or visit. And please don’t just say, “I’m sending you loads of love” and leave it at that. This feels empty. More real to do something that is loving. Like pick up the phone or go round. If you don’t get an answer to your text(s)—call. Call anyway.

Of course it all depends on your relationship and the closeness of your friendship as to what you decide. But we will all lose parents. We all be bereaved.

It really is a time to show up for each other, even if we are not quite sure what to do.

We can always say in our clumsy way, “I don’t really have a clue what to do but I’m here for you. I care. I love you.”

Please don’t do nothing. Please don’t choose to be remote. It is at times like this that friendships can deepen and grow, and the love we feel gets a real chance to show.

I love texting. But when real communication is required, our little phone friend is right out of its depth, lacking any personal touch or true intimacy. When it comes to real connection, it just can’t cut it.

And what bothers me most is that texting can give us a get out clause, an easy way to feel we’ve ticked the box and dealt with something when we needed to show up.

But let’s ask more of ourselves when it comes to supporting friends and loved ones who have lost someone.

Ask yourself, who are you making it easy for by taking the easy option?

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Relephant read:

7 Ways to Help Someone Who is Grieving.

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Author: Dettra Rose

Apprentice Editor: Lois Person / Editor:  Khara-Jade Warren

Photo: Daniel Vespoli/ Flickr

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