Comforting the bereaved: The fallacy of tradition

The bereaved needs to be able to see the dead person and say their goodbyes and cry their tears. Facing this reality should not be perceived as scary or inappropriate.

31 July 2017 | 14:28

Source: Annahar

  • By Dr. Maram Hakim
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 31 July 2017 | 14:28

People coming to support the bereaved family must provide a listening ear and a reliable sympathetic shoulder to cry on. (Flickr Creative Common.)

BEIRUT: In Lebanon as in many countries, the sequence of events that follows the death of someone is closer to an exhausting cocktail party of sorts, where the family of the bereaved have to sit and stand like a bouncing ball to receive their guests.

Some guests are teary-eyed and genuinely affected, grief showing clearly in their words and behavior, but many others barely say anything. They come into the venue, shake hands mechanically, perhaps looking elsewhere and muttering cliché words to which the family member mutters back more clichés. Everyone sips coffee and glugs water. They proceed to making small talk about everything except the deceased. They may discuss the deceased’s illness, his doctors, the treatment and end up chattering about the stock market.

The charade-punishment goes on for a few days during which all attempts at grieving by family members are stifled by distractions or direct suppression by ‘self-appointed psychiatrists’ The latter are the ones chastising people when they catch the deceased beloved crying or wailing. Some even order the bereaved to consume tranquilizers and antidepressants, not knowing that this medication needs six weeks to work!

The grieving process is thus thwarted and spoilt, forcing the loss, the grief and all the other emotions related to the death to be shelved till calmer times, when one can sanely process what should have been processed on day one of the loss.

In true grieving, one starts by being possibly in shock and disbelief, in denial, and when the reality of the loss sinks in waves of grief sadness, anger and fears flood consciousness over several days and weeks. Completion may require months.

Taking care of chores and funeral arrangements should be left to relatives or outsiders rather than family members flooded by sadness that demands being experienced, expressed and externalized at one’s own pace rather than being suppressed and frozen till later.

The bereaved needs to be able to see the dead person and say their goodbyes and cry their tears. Facing this reality should not be perceived as scary or inappropriate: it allows reality to sink in and the feelings to emerge. In a way, it positions death as a normal life transition devoid of voodoo and superstition.

People coming to support the bereaved family must provide a listening ear and a reliable sympathetic shoulder to cry on, rather than inventing distracting- silly - Or any attempts to suppress emotion that is meant to be felt. Meaningless statements like ‘she’s in heaven now’, ‘daddy doesn’t want you to cry’ or ‘you now have an angel on your side’ tend to rationalize the pain of the loss and invalidate the depth of loss, end up suppressing the sadness.

The deceased needs to be mentioned, remembered. Family members need to be given a collective permission to cry their eyes out or rage at the gods if that’s what they need to release the emotional traumatic burden incurred by the loss of a dear loved one.

It is best to listen silently and reinforce and validate the grieving person’s own feelings thus helping facilitate the grieving process and helping the family members digest this loss and transition to a healthy recovery as the grieving continues unimpeded and reaches a point where the pain is diminished after it has been processed properly. Then the memories can start becoming less painful and more neutral in emotional tone or even positive, reminding of good times sans the heart twisting grief of loss.

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Dr. Maram Hakim is a Beirut-based physician and clinical psychologist with a blended approach including therapeutic bodywork, hypnotherapy, and trauma resolution. He is a graduate of the AUB Medical School and received his Masters in Psychology from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology.


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