Surviving Grief: A bereaved father’s take on how society can learn from grief
By Hans Kullberg
Grief is a part of life. If you have ever loved and lost someone, the height of your love is commensurate with the depth of your grief. It’s something that we all come to learn at one point or another in our lives. Yet, it’s not something that’s widely shared nor given space in today’s society that obsesses over the happier moments in life – the weddings, new jobs, new babies, life milestones and new fortunes. Social Media reinforces this trend. Bereavement leave in the corporate world is relegated to only a few days to mourn somebody you’ve loved for a lifetime. Yet, when it comes to recognizing grief, not many people know how to approach it, perhaps for fear of making the griever feel uncomfortable or, more than likely, making themselves feel uncomfortable.
Over the past year, since losing my 10-month old daughter Aviva, I’ve learned that, while each person’s grieving journey is unique, it can be universally aided with the support of others. Our family has been blessed to have a handful of “grief supporters” who we appreciate immensely. However, I’ve also learned many would-be supporters are left asking the question “How can I help?” just after saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I can’t even imagine”. Many times, you never hear from them again. Sometimes they confuse distance with space, the idea that grievers need a safe space to be heard rather than being left with a silent void through non-communication. From my own experience and through sharing conversations with other grief survivors, I’ve learned that even the basic acknowledgement of one’s grief can’t be taken for granted. Even a simple hug, phone call or text message asking how things are going can go a long way. Just showing up is a start. For us bereaved parents, the majority of us love to still talk about our deceased children just as much as parents like to talk about their living children.
I continue to tell stories about Aviva to her siblings. I find comfort in the charitable works that friends and strangers perform in the name of my daughter. I keep my daughter Aviva alive through a children’s book, Baby Aviva Orangutan Diva, based on her personality with a positive message that I hope will inspire future children for generations to come. She lives through the children, her would-be friends, that read and enjoy it. The book has lowered the conversational barriers to the extent that friends that didn’t know how to bring up the topic can now talk openly about Aviva without fearing they would say the wrong thing. And I love answering questions and telling stories of her marvelous life. Although it will never bring her back, it makes it feel like a part of her is still right here.
These past few years have been trying for many across the world. From COVID to floods, tornadoes, shootings, fires, domestic violence and other natural and unnatural tragedies, most of us have experienced grief ourselves or know somebody who has. Grief has been part of the international conversation yet it’s rarely talked about. We as a society can do a better job of creating space to acknowledge and reach out to those enduring through grief. Because it’s typically misconstrued as a taboo topic, the first step is educating ourselves and creating dialogue. Instead of asking “How are you doing?” ask “How are you really doing?” and take a moment to listen. You might just be the first person that’s taken time out of the day to really listen in quite some time.
If you know somebody that could use a shoulder to lean on, reach out to them and let them know you’re thinking about them. Listen in, you might just learn something about life. And you never know how much it could mean to someone that’s grieving.
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