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Naming the Big White Elephant

Recently a grieving person reported that she never talks about the one who died, her sadness, or her loneliness to any of her friends or family. She does not want to burden them with her troubles or make them feel uncomfortable being around her. She doesn’t want them to stop inviting her because she isn’t “fun” any more. Basically, she is afraid – afraid of her emotions being unacceptable, afraid of rejection, and afraid of being left alone.

Unfortunately, even without speaking a word, she is already experiencing all of those things.  Because she believes her emotions are unacceptable and her friends would reject her, she is desperately alone even in a crowd.  No one knows what she is really feeling inside.  No one knows her pain.  She has to deal with this on her own without any resources, help, or support, and she feels isolated and angry at the world because of it.

Do you see yourself in her story? After all, grieving people do make others uncomfortable. People feel helpless around you, unsure what to say or do, and unable to “fix” it.

Grief is often referred to as the elephant in the living room - the enormous creature blocking the path, knocking things over, disrupting everything, and every once in a while making a big stink. Yet when people come into the living room they act as if it isn’t there. They talk about everything except the elephant. They walk through it or around it. They plug their noses and pretend they don’t smell it. Elephants, it seems, are to be ignored. In fact, most seem far too anxious to get back to their own living rooms, where they believe there are no elephants.

Because of all this, those who live with the elephant can start to wonder whether they are crazy. Then, someone comes in who also sees the elephant. What a relief! You mean I’m not crazy? There really is an elephant here? And there are ways to deal with it, to befriend it, and to build a new future?  As one bereaved parent said, “I ignore the elephant until I find someone else who also sees it. Then we can really talk.”

Very few have the patience, skill, and empathy to listen long and well, avoid giving unwanted advice, and simply walk through it with you. But don’t let that isolate you. Find those friends or family members who can. Take advantage of counseling or grief coaching. Ask around about support groups. You may be amazed at how many other people are also living with big white elephants. Give yourself permission to share your experience, so you do not have to be alone in your grief. 

© 2011, Amy Florian.  Used by permission.

 

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