During the week I was speaking to somebody who has recently been bereaved of somebody close to them whom they loved very much. We talked about their illness and their end of life care.
In the course of our conversation I discovered that their loved one had died on the birthday of the person who was speaking to me.
I was quite taken aback at hearing this. I was unsure of what to say. Somehow, in my mind, this seemed to make this person’s story even sadder.
Quickly in my mind I searched for what I thought would be an appropriate response to what I had just been told. I opened my mouth to sympathetically say “That must be very difficult for you.” but instead I asked softly “What did that feel like?”
To my surprise, this person replied very positively that she saw it as a ‘gift’ – her loved one was terminally ill and in pain and she perceived it as her parting gift that her loved one’s body was released from pain and sickness on her birthday!
I have reflected much on this conversation since. The person I was speaking to was unaware of my circumstances and I think that was good, because it allowed her to speak freely without feeling uncomfortable or ‘worried’ about me.
Her positive attitude in the midst of her own obvious sadness and sense of loss has been helpful to me. I was reminded once again of how important ‘perspective’ is – how we frame a situation really does affect how we feel about it.
I was also reminded that grief and distress is such an individual thing and that we can never truly know the significance of any situation for another person unless we hold space for that other person to communicate to us what it means to them.
If I had replied with my intended response of “That must be very difficult for you.” I would have indirectly been implying that she should feel negatively about her loved one dying on her birthday – maybe then she would not have felt comfortable about telling me how she really felt. We would both have missed out.
Since this conversation took place, I have thought about the children’s story book Badger’s Parting Gifts, which I read many times to my children when they were small, to help them to understand and process death in a positive way.
This book describes how Badger’s friends were very sad after he died. Then they remembered all the special treasures that they had in their lives because of having had Badger as a friend and they drew comfort from this in their grief and loss.
Leah wasn’t old like Badger, she was only sixteen, but she has also left us so many gifts. I thought about listing some of those gifts here, but then I realised that – just like Badger and his friends – the ‘gifts’ that Leah left will be individual for each of you, depending on the capacity in which you knew her.
Maybe you too would like to read “Badger’s Parting Gifts” – it’s narrated here in this Youtube video: