I know it’s the season to be festive and I should be sounding bright and upbeat and yet I am finding it difficult to come up with something that is even remotely so. I just lost someone I was extremely fond of, to a bizarre accident. The thought that she had just completed her studies and was looking forward to a bright future just makes it worse to bear. Her ever smiling face and her optimism could cheer up the grumpiest of people. I am told that God needs good people up there so He summons them early. I disagree. The world, down here, needs such people more.

Despite our being close, I didn’t know her family. Much as I would want to reach out to them, I don’t know how to. Grief is lonely and a supremely personal thing. I still haven’t figured out the etiquette of grief.

How does one reach out to a person who is bereaving? How can one even attempt to fill the void and vacuum that they themselves are unable to comprehend? We can at best be sympathetic but hardly empathetic.

Since I have never understood how to behave in such circumstances, I am usually quiet and I observe. In situations like these, I have come across two kinds of people. The ones who mean well and the ones who are… well…. mean. Grief vultures as I like to call the latter are those who hover around at the hint of loss but were nowhere to be seen when they were truly needed?

Even for the former, it’s a thin line they tread. Every family and every individual handles death and loss in a particular manner. No two families behave the same. Then how can our response be the same as we grieve with them?

There are a few dos and don’ts that I have laid down in my mind when I am confronted with the unpleasant task of condoling. The first and foremost is a no brainer.

Be yourself. How tough is that? Pretending that you are aggrieved when you are not doesn’t fool anyone… least of all the person you are condoling. It is not necessary to cry with them. You just need to be there if they need to cry.

Ask yourself, can you do something to help? There are so many things big and small that need to be done. Make yourself useful. Even through their blur, people acknowledge that you mean well. And they remember it. If you cannot be useful just stay out of the way. 

Do not comb for details. You do not need to go through a morbid step by step process of the loss. It does not serve any purpose. You ain’t any wiser and neither are they any less sad. A grand inquisition is unnecessary. Steer clear.

Respect the wishes of the dead and the living ones they have left behind. If they want rituals so be it. Or the other way around. Even through the tears they may crave to laugh. Do not make them feel guilty for wanting to do that. Let’s not place ourselves on the high pedestal of morality and pass judgment.

Be around. Let them know you are available. But do not hover around. Make them feel comfortable in your presence.

And lastly try to be in their shoes. Clichéd as it may be its still a good idea. 

-Dr. Shivani Salil

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