The Wall of Awkwardness, Pressure and Stigma That Surrounds Grief

by Amy L. Silva Rigtrup

On this week's episode of The Silva Lining, I was joined by one of my favorite guests on the topic of grief, Deanna Upchurch, Grief and Volunteer Programs Specialist at Hope Hospice & Palliative Care Rhode Island, formerly known as Home & Hospice Care Of Rhode Island. Along with an exceptionally trained and compassionate team of grief counselors and volunteer facilitators, Deanna and Hope Hospice will be expanding their areas of support between Providence, RI and Southeastern MA. To find out more about Hope Hospice and the multiple support groups they already offer please visit their website and CLICK HERE for the support groups schedule.

As a person who has experienced loss, how many times have you:

  • Felt pressured to come up with ways that all of the countless people offering help/support can help you?
  • Felt like you couldn't say no to engaging in situations you may have not been comfortable with, but were told you should do?
  • Been told how you should or shouldn't be feeling or coping with your grief?
  • Found yourself in a conversation where acknowledgement of your deceased love one is specifically avoided?
  • Felt that you've needed support but didn't know who to call or what to say, so didn't call anyone at all?

As a person supporting someone that has experienced a loss, how many times have you:

  • Not felt you had the right words to express your sympathy, love, willingness to support and instead chose to say something cliche, or avoided contact altogether?
  • Have wanted or expressed offers of support at the funeral but were unsure if it was okay to reach out to the bereaved in the weeks/months that followed?
  • Wondered in social settings about mentioning the deceased around the bereaved, assuming bringing up the person would upset the bereaved - so chose not to?

All of these very relatable, well-intentioned and highly common societal elements exist because of a wall of awkwardness, pressure and stigma that surrounds grief. The only way to bring down this wall is through education and communication. The more our society is educated about grief, perceptions will expand, minds will open, expectations will be erased and this will all lead to better communication between the bereaved and support networks. That is how the wall will come down.

Grief is not black and white, formulaic or measurable. It is as unique and complex as the individuals we are, the relationships we have and the capacities of love we feel. There can be no room for judgement in grief. Just acknowledgement, respect, understanding, love and support.

CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast dated 3/31/16

Deanna and I had an extensive conversation on these topics, initially sparked by an interesting list that she came across on Facebook (author unknown):

The 5 types of people responding to a friend after a death. Which one are you?

The comforters - these beautiful people are warm and tender. They look into my eyes and see my tears, and they seem to know intuitively what I need. They can articulate how they feel, and recognize my never-ending pain, and sometimes they don't need to say anything at all because their body language is obvious. They hug and they squeeze my hand as required. They're not afraid of their emotions and tears, or of mine. They make it clear how much they care about me and how much they also miss my loved one. They are, unfortunately, so rare. 

The try hards - they have their heart in the right place, but they don't know what to say or how to be.  I totally understand because I don't know how to be either. They fumble and stumble with words, but their presence is noted and their love is felt.  

The fixers - these people are going to 'cure' my grief! They tell me that 'time will heal', to 'keep my chin up', to read this book, to go to church, to see another therapist, to be positive.....but have they ever lost anyone? Probably not. 

The drama addicts - these people were once friends, lost through the passage of time and moving cities etc. They came out of the woodwork as soon as they heard my loved one was in ICU. They emailed, sent texts and were wanting to know the details of my 'crisis', and how on earth I was coping. Then after the funeral, they disappeared again. 

The avoiders - they literally turn the other way at social gatherings, or in the shopping centre. They have absolutely no ability to communicate, although they did send a card or flowers at the start. And if by chance they do interact, there is no mention of what has happened. It's like my loved one never existed. These people are good to hang out with on days when you are trying to move forward and pretend it never happened yourself!

What I found really interesting about this list is that we can take on many of these different roles for people in our lives depending on the situation and relationships that we have. Also, I am already taking inventory of my support network and know who I tend to reach out to in certain situations. 

One answer I have for breaking down the wall is by embracing PERMISSION. Maybe the bereaved can give themselves permission to think about what they need and ask for it - especially when someone offers to help. Permission to say no when they feel like they are "expected" to say yes. Permission to express how they feel or don't feel. Permission to grieve the way they need to.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally known author, educator and grief counselor wrote this Mourner's Bill of Rights that you can read by clicking HERE

Supporters can give themselves permission too! Permission to announce, acknowledge, even offer the specific type of support that they are willing to provide. Permission to honestly say what they are feeling - even if it doesn't seem to be the "normal" things they should say. Permission to ask the bereaved about things they feel unsure or awkward about talking about. 

The good news is that there is hope. Support and resources about grief are more available and carry a broader perspective than ever before. The wall can come down. We can all help each other because the groundwork is in place. At the center of everything is love. All of the awkwardness, pressure and stigma on both sides of the wall stands on a foundation of love and good intentions. We just need to open our minds, communicate and move forward.


Upcoming Events:

A Community Conversation - Weaving A Tapestry; Tuesday, April 5th @ 7:00 PM at Blessed Trinity Church, 1340 Plymouth Ave., Fall River, MA 02721 coordinated by The Fall River Suicide Prevention Task Force and sponsored by The Fall River Herald News; all are welcome to attend this discussion about prevention, resources and supports for those impacted by suicide.

Tickets are still available for Havens Healing Hands Comedy Night Fundraiser. Please consider attending or donating to this worthy cause - 100% of proceeds helping provide Vitamin C IV Treatments to those with pediatric cancer. Anyone interested in donating items for the raffle, please message me.

The Silva Lining would like to thank our wonderful sponsor,

St. Anthony of Padua Credit Union - We are proud to be sponsored by such an incredible bank, that in an age of conglomerate banks treating people like numbers, maintains a relationship with its members based on trust, friendly service and loyalty. With competitive rates for savings accounts and various loans, St. Anthony of Padua can handle all of your financial needs. Convenient online banking and more information at