A friend told me of a unique encounter within a familiar situation. Upon meeting a lady organising a work event, she discovered, that very moment, she had lost her best friend to cancer the day beforehand.
The encounter went like this:
LADY: “Oh, hello, I’m [her name] … oh, I’m really sorry, I need to take this, it’s a funeral director… [answering her phone]”
MY FRIEND: “Oh, that’s okay.”
LADY: [After the call] “I’m really sorry about that; unavoidable I suppose.”
MY FRIEND: “It’s really very understandable… some things just have to take precedence.”
LADY: “She was one of my best friends, and I have to deliver a eulogy at the funeral” [beginning to become teary by this stage]
MY FRIEND: [sensing the need to distract the lady to protect her dignity given it was a workplace situation] “So… would you like me to talk about something else?”
LADY: “Please, would you? We don’t even know each other; and we meet over these circumstances…”
MY FRIEND: “It’s okay… hey, this might seem like an odd question, but, what makes you laugh?”
LADY: [Somewhat stunned, a grin appearing through watery eyes] “Oh, that’s got my attention… now, let me think a minute… oh, of course, it’s actually my husband — he’s a laugh a minute; dry and very pathetic is his sense of humour, but I love it. He always has me in stitches… his goofiness… he said this the other day…” [two minutes later, the overflow of emotion in the lady had subsided]
MY FRIEND: “Thank you for sharing that. Your husband does sound funny. How are you feeling now?”
LADY: “Strangely, better. I think I’m okay now. Thank you.”
And there it was. A first-conversation interaction that took ten minutes.
Not all distractions are equal. Not all serve the moment well. But this one did.
There’s a time to cry. It’s not healthy nor wise to deny our grief. But there’s also a time to deny it in order to be distracted enough to get through an awkward moment, especially when we’re most vulnerable, and especially in very structured environments. Moments here and there. Amid grief we still hold down jobs, care for children, and run other activities in our lives. Times when we need to feel in control if we can muster it.
Whilst it’s wise to attend to our grief there are many moments during the grief process when we need distractions, so our lives don’t completely fall apart.
Distractions are not denials if they’re used strategically to keep us focused on what we need to do. Of course, there are days and moments when no amount of distraction helps; where we cannot deny our emotions, because they swarm and overwhelm us.
As we help people in their grief process, we’re wise and gracious to discern what their moment is as we help them. It’s always about them and what they need.
If there’s one thing a grieving person has, it’s a regular lack of control over their mental and emotional state. It’s good for a grieving person to have some control over when and how they choose to cry and deny.