I’m embarking on a speculative project and you might be able to help. This is not for teenagers, though they’ll very welcome to read it. This is for people who have had the experience of being close – very close or slightly close – to a person who is facing death. There are two things I’m exploring: how we ourselves get it right or wrong and how we learn to cope/talk/feel/grieve/live? And, second, how can people around us help us when we are in the emotional turmoil of being about to lose someone? What are the best and worst things people have said or done to or for you or for your loved one? What did you learn or are you learning about how best to talk about death? Could be small things or huge things.
Last year my sister was unfairly, unexpectedly and suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer and died five months later. She and our family and closest friends all went through not only struggling to help Jo, but struggling to help each other and struggling to deal with the well-meaning but unhelpful things people said when they weren’t saying helpful things. We became raw to wrong things and I found myself analysing what might be the right things and why some things helped and others hurt. And it still goes on, too, because we’re not “over it” even though people outside might not see us visibly grieving.
Have you experienced the loss of someone very close to you? Or has someone very close to you experienced loss and you’ve struggled to help them but eventually have learnt how to? Or have you not been very close to someone but still wanted to help them but not felt close enough? Have you turned away because you didn’t know what to say? Have you felt left out or powerless?
I’m interested in all sorts of relationships: from the expected loss of an elderly parent to the “unnatural” loss of someone younger; the piercing clean loss of someone you loved unreservedly or the ragged loss of someone you had a more complicated relationship with. A loss which changes your daily life – such as of a partner – or of someone you hardly see/saw but love/d dearly and whose loss is confusing and distant and hard to compute. Even the loss of a beloved dog – because for some people that will be the most painful and the least valued by others. I’m certainly interested in hearing from people from other cultures than mine. (“Mine” could probably best be described as variously Anglo-Saxon/WesternEuropean/Protestant. I happen not to be religious or church-going but I was brought up in Anglican/Protestant traditions so I’m familiar with that. I’d love to hear from people from the widest variety of heritages. I’m interested in the ways in which cultural rituals around death can perhaps help. Or hinder?!)
I’d love to hear from you. I’ll have a few questions and we can talk by email or Skype or face to face. You can use your real name or not – entirely up to you. And you’ll be able to check/approve/alter anything I quote you on. Please use the contact button here and in the first instance just give me the briefest outline of your experience, and then I’ll get back to you and we can start talking by email. Please be assured of complete confidentiality: no one else will read my emails (unless I die, of course, in which case someone might have to read them for me!)
We need to talk more about death and we need to do it right. I want to help that happen.