Please Say His Name

After my group last Wednesday night I sat and talked with my co-leader, another widow, for a while.

It had been a very triggery group. Although  this was not a group of widows; this was a group of women whose children had died,  I have come to see that death is death. Sounds kind of dismissive, but truly isn’t meant to be.

Whoever walks through the doors of the grief groups I have been leading has had the worse thing EVER happen, in their eyes.  Whether their loss was  a parent, a child, a spouse…it doesn’t matter.  Pain is pain, death is death.  We are all going do it, and we are all going leave people behind.  Those people cope in whatever way they can. I am very grateful that some of them find the place where  I volunteer. I am vey grateful I found it after Tom died.

I also lead a group of young widows on another night, but for some reason this parent-grief group triggers me more.  I think part of it is the woman I work with and how we talk afterwards. Perhaps also that I am present in those groups differently than in the widow groups. I totally understand the widow groups, everything they express is what I have felt.  Parent grief not as much, until I hear those things that catapult me back into my own experience. In those moments, what can I say?  Dead is dead.  The experience is the same. Someone we love is dead. Period.

One of the things we talked about after group ended that night was how we felt about people bringing up our spouses (children in the group) in conversation.  The women in the group were mixed, and my co leader and I also had differing opinions. Again, this grief thing is so different for everyone, I am constantly aware of that and never surprised by anything I hear. This serves me well.  I don’t judge them, or myself.  Nothing surprises me about anyone’s grief,  not even my own.

My partner doesn’t like to hear stories about her dead husband, she cringes when he is brought up in conversation.  It makes her sad, always.  I am completely the opposite. I have always invoked Toms name whenever it is appropriate and I guess that shows, by example, that I respond well when others do.  I live for those moments that someone says something off the cuff, completely unexpectedly, that reminds me that they think of him too.  I think for me the over-riding sense in it is that I am not crazy.  He lived, he was, it wasn’t a dream.  As I sit here in my apartment writing this I am aware that, at times  it might be easy to forget, or question it.  In the house no, so many immediate memories.  Life has changed though and sometimes I find myself staring at his picture, willing myself to feel him, to remember his laugh. I was very upset the other night because for some reason my netflix wasn’t working and I had found a movie to watch. Can’t remember the name or anything about it today, but Nathan Lane was one of the stars.

Tom had been mistaken for him more than once. I wanted to SEE him.

I kept trying to get netflix to work, sort of desperately, frankly, until I GOT it,  understood the connection. Only then could let it go and go to bed.  I would have watched it though, stayed up  way too late.  I needed that hit.

I need that hit from others, that reassurance that he lived and that he had an impact on their lives. A funny story, something he said, even just a nod to him in some way.  The acknowledgment when I say something about him. It’s all so good for me. The same way it is bad for my friend.

Here we are again, in the week leading up to the day he died. I have to write about him,  I am compelled. It’s for me, I know it.  I’m going to space it out because, frankly, it’s all I can think about and so a little bit here and there feels right.

My justification  (as if I need one) is that even thought this is MY grief specific, it is inherently a universal thought, dilemma. Maybe this will help someone struggling with whether or not to say something, to recall a dead friend in the presence of their spouse , or parent, or child.

Reading this over though perhaps it won’t help anyone.  I have basically written that what works for one person may not for another, like me and my friend. I guess if I have a general take-away about this it would be for you to listen carefully to the grieving person. Do they talk a lot about their loss, about their dead person?  If so it’s a safe bet that they would welcome you to talk about them too.

In the groups though, over and over I hear “please say their names“. We have poems about it, we talk about it a lot, it ALWAYS comes up.  What is it like to have thanksgiving, or a birthday or whatever go by and not have it acknowledged by someone, anyone else in the world?  For me it is impossible.  So much so that I generally post a picture of some sort on FB of Tom and then enjoy the responses engendered by that sharing.  I am in the process of extracating myself, slowly, from FB, but certainly it won’t be was soon as next week, with another opportunity to share and to openly need acknowledgment, support and love.  Not necessarily just for me either…for him.  That he lived.  That good memories are left and always will be. I have those and always will.  Others having them too, and acknowledging that fact,  that’s what I crave.

Please, just say his name.



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  1. This is so very touching and poignant. I have no experience like this in my life, so I have nothing to offer other than this was wonderful, and I hope to have the same dignity and integrity you have and show here and to those women when this happens in my life.

    Big hugs,

  2. I am very moved by your post. I appreciate your advice to listen carefully to the bereaved person to gain an understanding of how they want to speak of their loss. I have widowed/widower friends whom I know appreciate my speaking of the person they have lost, but it is helpful to be reminded this may not be the case for everyone. Sending you supporting thoughts xx

  3. With the exception of my grandpa, who just passed away, I have very little experience with death. When someone I know loses someone, I never know what to say but what I’m learning from you is that it’s most important to just be present. Not hide from another’s grief or pretend it didn’t happen. Just be with them in whatever capacity they need. I’m sorry that you have these experiences to share but you’re a good teacher.

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