Idle Talk

Idle-Talk-1024x682One of the common ways that we avoid grief is through idle talk.

I do most of my writing in public places. As I sit in coffee shops and nurse my mug of java or enjoy a beer at the local pub, I often experience idle talk all around me. I don’t intend to listen in but sometimes people talk so loudly that it’s inevitable. Most of what I hear is chitchat, complaining, arguing, or gossiping.  Tune in sometimes to conversations around you. So often there isn’t much substance or depth.

This happens not just at coffee shops and pubs – I find that there can also be a lot of idle chat following the death of someone whom we love. Even though we are experiencing something very deep in lives, we tend to want to talk about things that don’t take us to our sadness, loneliness and missing. We converse on the surface. Strangely, our family and friends also respond with idle talk too and take their cue from us to not go deeper.

Grief can be one of the most transformational and life-changing experiences that we enter into, if we chose to enter into it. If others are willing to engage us at a deeper level and we are able to engage meaningfully, conversations of significance can change more people than just the one who is grieving.

Perhaps it’s time to ask more questions of those who are grieving and to give fewer answers as we listen to their responses.

Why not go beyond idle talk to deeper conversation?

Suicide and Grief

Suicide-1024x682Not many people want to talk about suicide. It’s often swept under the carpet…unless it happens to a famous movie star. Then we all take notice. It brings the topic into focus for a while – which is a good thing. The death of our beloved comedian, Robin Williams, has stopped us in our tracks and pushed a very difficult subject to the front pages of our own lives.

Grief following suicide is very difficult. There are so many unanswered questions; so many “what ifs”. The emotional turmoil experienced by those left behind is extremely intense and difficult.

I have cared for many people who have gone through the trauma of grief following the suicide of a loved one. I know from experience that so many want to keep the conversations around death by suicide a secret, hidden from those around them. In my world of thanatology, we call this “disenfranchised grief”.  Grief that goes incognito, almost like a taboo that we don’t want to talk about for fear of people’s response to it.

If you are one of those who have gone through or who are mourning following death by suicide of a family member or friend, you are hurting at a level that not many of us can understand. We can’t possibly understand unless we have gone through this experience ourselves. We can only listen without judgment.

True compassion exists only when we leave our personal viewpoints at the door and become available to a fellow human being. We can’t offer answers where no answers exist. But we can meet where two hearts come together and speak only what is really necessary.

Be kind to each other.

A Little Behind But Not Too Far Away


Connor did not appreciate the loud lawn mower. He stood at a distance. Sometimes he cried and sometimes he held on to his mom, pointing at the piece of steel equipment as it moved across the front lawn of their new home.

His Dad finished as quickly as possible so that they could hang out and play. Then Connor became the owner of a toy lawn mower. He followed his Dad neither to close, nor too far away. With great determination however, he kept up with daddy, beaming proudly of his new feat.

We often struggle with how to help someone when they are grieving. I’m wondering if “a little behind but not too far away” might not be a good description of our interaction with a grieving person.

We don’t want to be “ahead” of someone on his or her grief journey. That’s what happens when we begin to share our own story, believing that somehow we know exactly how the other person is feeling because we have “already been through” death too. And so we try to pull them ahead. But we don’t understand another person’s specific grief – we are not the author of their story.

We don’t want to be too far behind either, because that indicates that we don’t really care. Many people are frightened to say something unhelpful or to approach a grieving person, so they keep a big gap between them and their friend. This is not a good alternative.

The best approach is “a little behind but not too far away”. What does this mean? Simply, let your friend know that you are available and that you care. Be within seeing distance of them, so they can spot you and call out your name when necessary. Don’t force yourself upon a grieving person and don’t ignore them. Be willing to be present when needed on their time frame and not yours.

This is a grief friend that I would want.

Who would be your friend in your grief journey?

Often, it’s better to say nothing!

Deer-blog-680x1024There is a reason for the phrase, “Silence is golden.”  It’s true!  And when it applies to grief it is so necessary.

So often we believe that we are being helpful when we say we understand what a person is going through in their grief journey. Do we really understand?

People want to help and care and many believe that they are being empathetic when they say that they understand another’s grief. A few people in my grief journey seemed to think that they understood me because they had gone through a similar experience.

Although they could probably relate to me because of the type of death their loved one experienced, they could never truly understand me and my grief process. Each of our grief journeys is unique.

I would have preferred silence. I would have liked to be the one who approached them and asked that person what it was like for them to go through a similar experience.  In my time.  When I was ready.

In my experience with people who are grieving, the best care often, it is better to say nothing. You will be surprised how thankful people will be when you become a friend who doesn’t have the answers or solutions to their grief.

Did you have a person in your grief journey who was willing to just be with you without offering words?

Making People Happy

It was sad news. Devon’s college friend. His wife had died leaving a 3-month old baby without a mother. It happened so quickly.

I wonder if people will try making him “happy” this Christmas. This is what we often try to do, especially after someone’s death and during the most celebrative time of the year…Christmas.

Have you noticed how people become so kind and unusually cheerful during this time of the year? It seems that people are desperately hoping it’s going to be a joyful time because perhaps life hasn’t been all that joyful the past few months. It gives them permission to feel a certain “happiness” that will cover over anything else that makes them sad and lonely. But the happiness is short-lived.

Christmas will end and then what?

We glibly shout out the greetings “Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Have a wonderful time with your family and friends!”

But maybe not.

Will Devon’s friend be feeling particularly happy on December 25, 2012? What will the holiday season be like for him? What will be on his heart and mind as he gazes into his baby daughter’s eyes, celebrating her first Christmas…without…that’s a good definition of loss. “What will I be without this year that I had previously? And how will that impact my Christmas?”

Reflect upon that for a moment.

Then consider this truth….

One thing you will never be without is Emmanuel, “God with us”. Jesus was born so that we will never be without Him in our lives. And if we trust Him, we will never be separated from each other because of the gift of eternity.

Most likely, there is loss in people’s lives around you. Do you know what Christmas loss they might be experiencing? Are you trying to cheer them up?

It’s not our job to make people happy. Some people don’t want to be cheered up. They’re waiting for someone who is willing to acknowledge their sadness and lonely heart this Christmas.

Rather than saying “Merry Christmas”, we might want to ask, “Is anything different about Christmas for you this year?” That question could lead to a heartfelt response about their loss. It also gives you an opportunity to meet that person where they’re at, happy or sad.


Sometimes professional grief counseling might be required. But often all that is needed is just someone to be a friend. Regardless, the choice to find a grief friend is one of the most important and intentional decisions you can make in your healing process.

Healthy families care for each other.  But remember, each family member is grieving too and will need a grief friend outside of family to be that consistent presence and support.

Many people are unsure of what to say or do when dealing with a grieving person.  When you are considering a friend who could walk with you in your grief, you may wonder if they would ever consider this commitment. You may even question whether they have the right skills or experience to be of help to you.

They may not have the right skills but if they have a healthy character and personal integrity, the necessary skills can quickly be acquired.

Have you ever had a friend who has come alongside of you in your grief? What were the qualities in your friend that helped you?