by MIA FREEDMAN
Six weeks. That’s about the length of time after a tragedy when the shock subsides, the adrenaline wears off and reality sinks in.
Unfortunately, it’s also around the six week mark when – if the tragedy didn’t affect you directly – you kind of forget about it. You dropped over a lasagna. You sent flowers. You texted and maybe you even took time off work to attend the funeral. You shed tears and they were genuine.
But then your sympathy and altruism were swallowed by the demands of day to day life like quick sand. And things soon returned to normal. Well, for you they did.
Those at the centre of the tragedy are still tentatively patting themselves down after the explosion having staggered one or two steps down a road that stretches into forever. This is when they need the most support, right when most of their friends have filed the situation away under “Really Sad Things That Are In The Past”.
Partly, it’s because we want to believe they’re feeling better but we also feel helpless and uncomfortable, unsure how to help someone navigate their grief.
“After the “I’m so sorry’s” and “Here’s a lasagna” … people just don’t know what to say” says a friend who was bereaved last year. “So they say nothing. Or worse, they just move on and probably think ‘Well, she’ll just have to get used to her new reality’ … which is true to a point.”
In the days after a death, there’s a surprising amount to do. Funerals to be planned, eulogies to be written, people to notify. Administration. In the case of a shock diagnosis, there are decisions and medical appointments to be made. But as days become weeks, the activity subsides and the even harder yards begin.
“People tend to drift away at around the time you’re trying to work out how to function again in the world” says a friend who lost her baby daughter two years ago. “The initial deep shock has started to wear off and there you are … just floating along with no idea how to behave any more. You start to panic about boring people. About being depressing. A downer. God forbid. People desperately want to think you’re okay … maybe so you’re no longer on their ‘to do’ list to worry about. “
Grief is often a private affair that others cannot share or perhaps even understand, agrees Petrea King, author of Sometimes Hearts Have to Break and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation. “Grief can spring out of drawers and cupboards, off shelves, from photographs, wafts to our nostrils upon a perfume, is precipitated by music, clutches at our heart, hollows out our insides and plummets us to the depths.”