Destiny Herndon-DeLaRosa


In DMN on August 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Death is imminent. If you live, then inevitably you will die, and in the space in between, you are likely to see many others pass along before you.

Susan Cheever said it best: “Death is terrifying because it is so ordinary. It happens all the time.”

When I was younger, I had only personally experienced death in much older people – my great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. I wept for the family holiday events they would no longer attend and longed for the smell of their houses that I could no longer visit. After the funerals, though, I was left with what I now see as a very neat and tidy bit of grief. I’m able to think back on the joy their lives had brought me, and honor them through their traditions, which I can now pass on to my own children.

However, when I lost my brother in 2004, it was an altogether different experience. It was beyond any level of devastation I had ever known. It was messy grief, and from time to time it still fills me with overwhelming sorrow even now. Perhaps it’s because my brother was only 18, and I felt like he had been cheated out of a life, or maybe it was because he was the first really close person to me I had ever lost. All I know is that before my brother died, I handled grieving people much differently. I handled their bereavement as though it was that neat, tidy “celebrate the years they had” type of grief.

I remember someone relatively close to me at work losing their sibling tragically, and rather than offering my condolences, I thought it best just to keep their mind off it by making small talk instead. At the time, I assumed I was doing the right thing. I thought I was making their day easier by not asking them to acknowledge what they were going through. But once I experienced the full capacity of grief in my own life with the passing of my brother, I was appalled by how I had behaved.

I realized that you never stop thinking about that loved one for a second, especially when the loss is still quite new. The kindest thing others can do for a person in mourning is to offer condolences and let them talk about their loss if they choose to.

One shouldn’t force the issue, but letting them know that it is safe for them to cry, yell or even laugh with you if they need to is a kind act. Ignoring a person’s grief is only one step better than telling them, “God doesn’t ever give you more than you can handle.”

Seriously, never, ever, ever say that to a person who is grieving, or you’ll run the risk of taking one in the snot-box. A simple, “I am so sorry for your loss” is much better.

It might surprise some people, but the kindest words I received were not even from those closest to me, as they were also grieving, but from the people I barely knew who so compassionately offered me an ear. I didn’t feel as though I was going to cause them more pain by sharing my despair with them, because they were removed enough from the situation that I could talk unabashedly. Those people, those kind words, those selfless gestures are what helped me through a very sad time in my life, and to this day, that keeps me looking ahead.

I write these words as kind of a public service announcement, because it is only a matter of time before you are in a situation where you will have to choose your words, or lack thereof, wisely. As “ordinary” as death might be, you still have a chance to show extraordinary kindness in the face of it.

{Published in the Dallas Morning News and posted here on their website}

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