On 2nd Eid day, we were invited to a lunch by one of Fasih’s cousin. It was 42 days after Fasih’s passing away.
Ismail and I went to the lunch, as it was an opportunity to bond with Fasih’s extended family.
Since all the extended family is extremely shaken, one of the cousins after greetings, started talking to me about her medical condition, as she was pretty unwell.
In the conversation, I mentioned about Fasih, in some relation to the medical condition. She paused and told me she deliberately did not mention “Bobby Bhai” because she did not have the courage to talk about him, and hence avoided it. I could relate to her sentiments, as I must have done the same in a similar situation with someone else- avoid bringing up the tragedy.
But to me, being in Fasih’s extended family, alone, without Fasih or even his mention felt awkward. I felt comforted bringing Fasih in the conversation, and then others also joined in. And it ended up being a nostalgic conversation about how Fasih was just here a month ago, and related stories.
I had no clue at that time of how important this conversation was.
Later when the bereavement counselor gave me some matierials to read, it read how many people, out of embarrassment or to not hurt, do not mention the person who has passed away to the bereaved family. This is actually counterproductive and actually has a name in psychology called Mum Effect. And it actually feels like a ‘second death’ of that person, by eliminating him/her from the conversation.
Talking about the deceased always gives comfort to the family, no matter how painful it must have been.
The printout that the grief counselor gave me had very interesting points about how to condole with the greiving family (which now I have enough strength to share).
It narrates what to say and what not to say to the bereaved:
1. DO NOT SAY nothing at all. Offer simple heartfelt condolences.
It’s understandable to feel tongue-tied and at a loss, then end up not doing anything at all out of fear of hurting the grieving person. But even the smallest and most sincere gestures are appreciated.
2. DO NOT SAY “what can I do for you?” It not only looks fake, but adds burden to the greiving side. Instead, of asking, “Can I get you coffee?” give a choice which is easier, “I am getting coffee, do you want with sugar or without sugar.”
Or like in desi culture, just show up with food, instead of asking for it.
I will share a personal example here. My lovely and sensitive friend called me third day as she would visit everyday, “I am coming to your place. Do you want anything? “
Me: Yes. Get me Fasih.”
So next time she called me she said, I am in Walmart, what do you need from the groceries?”
3. DO NOT ASK: How did he/she die?
Instead of being too inquisitive, wait. If they have to share, they will tell themselves. – (This is something we desis need to change.)
4. DO NOT SAY: “We all have to die one day.” This feels like trivializing the pain of the bereaved family. It does not give any comfort.
I agree. Like I remember being told the same thing, and what popped up in my mind was, “But you are alive right now.”
5. DO NOT SAY: ‘At least…” At least he did not suffer for long” or “At least he did not have kids.” etc.
According to psychologists, these statements do “actually come out of a concern to fix things and make the person feel better.” But no qualifying statement can take away the pain of losing someone you love.
6. In situations like COVID currently: DO NOT SPIN conspiracy theories- “Like doctor must have mismanaged,” or “maybe he went late to the hospital”, or “he did not have covid, but doctors labelled him so.”
These kind of consolations only further traumatize the grief striken family members.
Fatima and I have personally heard this: “You should not have insisted Fasih to be admitted to hospital. Falana falana got well staying at home. Dhimkana went to hospital and died.”
Our beloved is gone. Talking ignorant theories will not bring him back or do any improvement to the grieving family.
7. DO SAY: Show that you’ll be there for the person that day and for years down the road. “The road is long and it’s often later in the grieving process when people need the most support from friends and family.”
8. DO NOT SAY: “He/She is in a better place.”
But for the family they would rather have their deceased person with them.
Am surprised at point 8, as this is what most of people with faith find comfort in this belief.
It has been a great learning experience for us too. Unfortunately, learning it a hard way though.
Everyone is well meaning when they condole, though many of us, including myself, hardly know what is right to say and what not.
Sharing an interesting cusp of medicine and poetry: A cardiologist friend who is also into shair-o-shairi had long ago related the follow shair to the ECG readings: Normal vs. VFs
Zindagi kya hai anasir mein zahur-e tarteeb
Maut kya hai inhi ajza ka pareshan hona.