“I haven’t heard from my friends since the funeral. Why don’t they return calls?” I’ve heard mourners ask this question — but others have asked the same question about those who are bereaved.
Yesterday one of my friends expressed concern over not hearing much from me lately. Also a widowed writer, she’d noticed my diminished postings here and on my Facebook page. *
Silence isn’t my norm, but this summer became a season of quiet.
I don’t mean quiet in the sense of vacationing away from home or hiding out from Florida’s relentless heat.
I mean quiet as in stilled by Mom’s adage — If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all — mixed with an adulterated metaphor — grief’s got your tongue. (Sorry, cat. You’re out of this one.)
So now, nearly six years into widowhood, when grief’s got my tongue, near-silence results. (More on this later.)
I wasn’t always this way.
In the early months after my husband’s death, I radiated raw emotion. I sobbed in public and blurted nonstop without thinking. Grief shredded whatever filters I’d once had.
As shock faded, I began — gradually — to recognize strangers’ uncomfortable body language whenever I shoved the intimacy of my loss into their awareness. (It took nearly a year to rein my words in, longer to channel the emotion behind them.)
Worse were the moments acquaintances’ and friends’ expressions shouted wordless discomfort … then beat hasty retreats.
But I still needed to talk about my loss. One of the greatest gifts you can give grieving friends is the assurance and presence of being there to listen — without judgement — over and over again.
Suppressed grief doesn’t disappear or go away — it drills deeper, cutting below the surface of already inflamed wounds, even damaging what may appear (from outside) to be healing.
Mourning is personal, even when the loss is publicly known and acknowledged past the deceased’s core family and friends.
Britain’s Prince Harry recently said, “I really regret not ever talking about” Princess Diana’s death.
I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for Harry and William to mourn their mother while the world watched and weighed in.
As much as I needed to talk through the traumas of my mother’s and husband’s deaths, I also needed to insulate myself. Wounded, I cocooned myself (and my kids, as much as possible) toward healing. Answering the phone took monumental effort; returning calls exceeded my capability. Opening emails overwhelmed me; replying no longer seemed possible, let alone expected.
Sometimes, like this summer, I return to similar silence.
I’ve written elsewhere of why July 4th renews missing my mother and about my first wedding anniversary after my spouse died — our 25th. Tiptoeing toward and through those dates (and a birthday) this month had me on shaky footing as my 30th anniversary approached.
Meanwhile, a couple of personal, below the belt blows left me reeling.
And horrific, ongoing public scenarios fill this summer’s news: The Christina Grimmie and Pulse shootings in my hometown. Violent murders and beatings by errant police officers, which prompted demonstrations of much needed awareness that #BlackLivesMatter. Attacks by rogue protesters against dutiful officers in Dallas and other cities. Political vitriol spewed between people (of otherwise seemingly good conscience and good sense). The plight of refugees around the world (including those my friend Melissa Dalton-Bradford volunteers with and writes about — see, for example, “Life in Limbo: The Ahmed and Shafeka Khan Story“) …
Sometimes it’s grief, not the cat, that’s got one’s tongue.
Even if your silent (or blurting) grieving friends don’t call you back or reply to your texts or emails, keep reaching out. One day, they may have the strength to respond again, and knowing you’ve cared all along will make that possible.
*Thanks again for reaching out, Shelby Ketchen! Your friendship is as full of honest encouragement as your writing. (Check out Shelby’s latest at www.BrokentoBlessed.com.)