Have you been in the presence of the newly bereaved and wanted to avoid saying the deceased person's name because you don't want to cause them pain? I know your heart is in the right place... but, say their name, tell that story about that time. Ask about what they were like if you didn't know them. Your friend might cry, they might even say they just can't talk about it right now. That is okay. Its okay to observe sadness and grief. Can you imagine though, suffering the most awful loss and everyone acting like the person you love and are trying to make it through without, never existed?
Say their name. Tell that story. Let them grieve in front of you.
When you talk about the person that has died to the survivors, it gives them the permission to be sad. In our society, everyone expects you to move on with your life after a short period of grief. We expect people to eventually recover from grief, like its a cold. Grief is a permanent state. Those losses have scarred our souls forever. If people have not started to appear to recover from their loss then we start talking about them needing therapy. Therapy is never a bad idea, but survivors of loss are allowed to be sad. They will always grieve.
When you talk about the person who died you give the bereaved permission to show their scars. Be present for someone else's pain and loss, as uncomfortable as it is, you are allowing healing to take place. If you are afraid to remind them of the person they love because you don't want to cause them pain, they haven't forgotten. You are not reminding them. Those scars are there and just like you don't want to hurt them, they don't want to make you uncomfortable by grieving in front of you. Be the friend who will bear witness to their grief without running away.
In ten years drop them a line to say you were just thinking about their loved one. Don't erase their memory because it might cause pain, its so much more painful to think they were forgotten. In Mexican culture there are three deaths, the first when you realize one day you will die, your actual death, and then the last time someone says your name. This last death, the last time someone says your name is the wound to the survivors. The way to share the grief is to let the survivors know you remember, you are also grieving.
If your grieving friend brings up their loved one, let them talk. Do not turn away because its uncomfortable for you. We tell people to 'let it out', be there so they can. Even when its uncomfortable for you in the moment, you will not regret providing the comfort of listening to your friend. Do not compound their loss by disappearing when they need you.
Say their name. Tell that story. Witness their grief.
My name is Abby, my life has been touched many times by loss and grief. This life has led me to helping others navigate their own grief. I have become a INELDA trained End Of Life Doula and a hospice volunteer. I am not a professional counselor or psychologist and all advice given should be treated as advice from a friend.