Living with the reality of death
By Benny Bong
INITIALLY, WE WOULD GATHER at weddings. Then it would be at our children’s birthday parties. Now, we bump into old friends when there is a death, sometimes of a parent and sometimes of a mutual friend.
Such events invariably leave us feeling awkward, saddened with grief and even anxious for ourselves. We are also at a loss as to what to say to the bereaved; unsure how we can be of a comfort to them. We know that all the words we can muster offer little relief. Yet we persist in finding words to fill the void of silence.
I have also noticed well-wishers busying themselves around the bereaved. No doubt some of their activities are helpful to the grieving individual. At other times, such activities are all vain attempts to be helpful in the face of our helplessness.
As counsellors, we try to be sensitive to the different emotions losing a loved one brings. Shock at losing someone dear is sometimes expressed as denial of the loss or even by being emotionally numb. Once the reality of the loss is undeniable, waves of sadness, anxiety over the future and even anger follow. Counsellors also bear in mind that the process of recovery, or more correctly, of moving on, can take years. It is a slow healing process that cannot be hurried.
So how can we help grieving individuals? Paradoxically, we can help them by trying not to be too helpful. In our desire to help, we may hurt the other by our insensitivity. We should nevertheless provide assistance when needed and in the manner that is wanted. For example, the bereaved may require someone to ferry the children to school or provide simple meals.
We should also remember to be a friend long after the memorial service. This is one way we demonstrate our unstinting support to our friends. Finally, in the presence of the bereaved, the manner with which we conduct ourselves speaks volumes over the poverty of our words.
How do we ourselves respond to the passing of friends? Such losses often cause us to reflect on these relationships. We may find ourselves being rather selective in our memories. Old disappointments seem to pale under the glare of such tragedies. We are sometimes left wondering how things might have been if we did not miss those opportunities to strengthen bonds or seek reconciliation. Death, it seems, challenges us to view our lives in a new manner.
Benny Bong, a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.