Germaine Greer, in The Change, describes how over time “grief became first a private thing, veiled and silent, then a secret thing, and then a shameful thing.” From the flood of responses to my article in the Daily Mail, it’s clear that many people feel unable to freely speak about grief; perhaps they fear being misunderstood, or even ignored, or they simply don’t have the language for the complicated, confusing world of feelings they’ve been thrust into. To have someone else talk about it openly is a tremendous relief. Of course we are all different, but as one person said: “All griefs are personal but seem to contain many parallel experiences.” The thing I have heard most often in the past week is that something I’ve said resonates with another person’s feelings or experience: “You have told it like it is for me.”
Several people have said I am brave for speaking out, which is interesting. I don’t feel particularly brave, but I did find it harder than I expected to have my private thoughts broadcast so widely and publicly – even though that is exactly my point, that more of us need to feel free to “tell it like it is” for us. That until we express our feelings and experiences more clearly, we will continue to misunderstand each other and not know how to give support.
I’ve also worried about appearing critical of people for not knowing what to say, or how to support a grieving person; for being clumsy, or frightened of saying the wrong thing. But people do the best they can, given what they have been taught, and our society does not teach us emotional intelligence. So each of us meets grief (our own or another’s) totally unprepared for the depth and power of it, and often without the tools to cope. How can we learn to deal better with the world of such feelings except by speaking out? It feels vulnerable and yes, occasionally shameful, to talk so personally about painful emotions (and I’ve had a lot of practice with various therapists!) but the more we do it, the better we’ll get.