The Power of Words

Grieving people usually cloister themselves away from larger social circulation in the beginning. Eventually, you will begin to make short journeys into contact with the world again. The world looks very different to you, smells different, tastes different - and sounds different.

The bereaved are often taken aback and surprised by how the general public, in particular their friends - WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER - use certain words. It is like the bereaved are hearing people use these words for the first time. The words are around death, loss and grief - but used in cavalier ways. And, it stings.

People actually often say things that inadvertently mention the subject of death, and use it for dramatic effect.

"That kills me."
"I could shoot her."
"I feel like I have one foot in the grave."
"That was murder."

And the list goes on.

You are in a hyper-sensitive state. These words cause you to halt. Your world just received a massive download of these kinds of words due to the loss of someone. These kinds of words are more infused in your daily discussions than before. So, when you hear these words used metaphorically, and even with intended humor, it is hard to ignore them or hear them with the same sense of levity you might have had at an earlier time in your life. You see everything through the lens of your loss and it is startling how much we talk about death, dying and suffering in superficial and dramatically silly ways.

People will say really crass things around grieving people - and it is painful. I hear this from hundreds of grieving people all over the world. They begin to be at odds with the people around them, asking why - if their friends and relatives care - are they using these words in this way.

Some people lose it in front of their friends and relatives on this issue. I recently watched one friend who exploded at his relatives regarding such verbal malfeasance. It slowly grew in annoyance and eventually exploded and became a rift between people in his family. I understand and empathize fully. But I hope to offer a different angle to look at these insults to the psyche to see if we can keep from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I can only offer one technique. As we live in a world that is so extremely death - denying, I feel that this use of death words is what one would call a Freudian slip - the unconscious mind kicking up toward the conscious. Death is the topic that everyone wants to suppress, so it must come out in sideways and backward emissions. I have come to think that perhaps it is like a nervous tick - they think they should avoid talking about these topics and are nervous and they let out these words like a bad case of verbal gas...

Sometimes, when someone is trying REALLY HARD not to say something, they begin hydroplaning, sliding and careening towards these words in some uncontrollable skid that can only stop by uttering a word like "die", "kill", "cancer", "tumor", "drown"... I could go on. It is equivalent to people developing momentary Tourettes syndrome.

Perhaps this will help you to extend some patience and grace toward the person even when they say something that stings. Imagine their words as a boisterous fart. You would feel embarrassed for them if it were gas, would you not? This is not that much different, I am afraid.

Love, Kim