Clarity Counseling Seattle
Grief Therapy in Seattle

What the Friends and Family of a Bereaved Person May Not Know

September 6, 2022
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Posted By: Hanna Kokko, LSWAIC
Grief and Loss Therapy in Seattle

Something I wish for the friends and family of a bereaved person to know is how much that bereaved person wants to talk about their deceased loved one with you. I hear that from my clients often during grief therapy – that they enjoy talking about their person and wish they had more opportunities to do so. That it's helpful for them to talk about their lost loved one. Additionally, the number one fear I hear expressed in my office is the fear of forgetting their person - being afraid that over time they will lose the memories they have of them. Not having the opportunity to talk about their loved one with others can sometimes begin to feel like their person never existed, which can of course feel extremely painful and confusing.

I understand the instinct to avoid these conversations. We don't wish to inflict more pain; it can be uncomfortable for us; we often don't know what to say; we're afraid of saying the wrong thing. I also understand that it may be painful for us as well, as acknowledging that person also acknowledges the grief that we may be experiencing ourselves. What we may not understand, though, is that the silence can be more hurtful than sharing any memory we have or any "wrong" thing that we may say. The person-sized hole that is left behind when someone dies is always there for a bereaved person, and it can be upsetting when that hole is not acknowledged.

Sharing memories of the deceased with the bereaved can be powerful and healing. Funny memories, profound memories, embarrassing memories - all of them can express the things that we appreciated and enjoyed about the person we've lost while they were alive. Even the more difficult memories are important to acknowledge, such as moments where we had to work through something to get to the other side in our relationship with one another. These memories can convey the things that were learned from this person – lessons to be carried forward through time by the people this person touched. Sharing these profound moments can be a way in which to connect the person to peoples’ lives after they are no longer physically present, as continuing bonds with the deceased is just such an important part of the grieving process. Asking the bereaved to share their favorite memories of their person is perfectly okay, too. In grief counseling I often see clients light up when I ask them to tell me about their loved one. I hear wonderful stories about the kind of father, mother, sister, brother, partner, friend they were to the people in their life. It's helpful and healing for them.

Something I often discuss with clients during grief and loss therapy is that using the deceased person’s name can also bring a smile to people’s faces. There are studies that show how dopamine and serotonin are released in our brains when we hear our own name spoken out loud, and I could imagine something similar happening when we hear the name of our loved one spoken aloud. Our name speaks to our identity, so to hear the name of our deceased loved one acknowledges that they existed, which is exactly what we want...for them to be remembered. The people who are no longer physically walking next to us deserve to be remembered, and those who are grieving them deserve their pain acknowledged as well. One of the best ways to help a grieving person with this is simply being willing to talk with them and whom they're missing. If they don't wish discuss their lost loved one in that moment, they'll tell you, otherwise I encourage you to assume that you have the green light to go there.

~ Hanna Kokko, LSWAIC

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