LETTER: Learning how to talk to the bereaved

How very true was Katie Hammond’s “As I see it” article on “The Hardest Word”.

Wednesday, 29th June 2011, 4:31 pm

Not only did she have to cope with the death of her father, but also the apparent rejection of her friends, which caused her further distress at a very vulnerable time. She later realised it was because they didn’t know how to approach her or what to say, rather than intended.

How lovely that, once Katie had realised the reason, she didn’t blame them; it shows her understanding of how others felt.

I sincerely hope her article helps others not to shun friends who have lost a loved one through not knowing what to say. I believe it is better to say the wrong thing, but in doing so to show you care, rather than ignore a person.

My father, whom I adored, died just after my 27th birthday, having had a major stroke four days earlier which left him in a coma. Because my parents lived abroad, I flew home having visited my doctor in the morning, who kindly gave me a sick note for three weeks without my asking.

While I was there, my mother’s friends and neighbours were wonderful, but on my return to England, most of my friends and colleagues, who were all in their 20s, had no idea how to treat me. I felt very strange anyway, but it was as though I had grown two heads.

I found it was I who had to speak to them first to show them I was still normal. It was hard. I didn’t want loads of sympathy, just acknowledgement, and a little understanding, such as a touch on the shoulder and a kind word.

Years later, when my 24-year-old God daughter’s father died, I warned her she might find she had to talk to friends first, as they would not know what to say to her. She wrote to me a few weeks later, telling me the only friend who understood and helped had lost her father when she was 17.

The true meaning of the word “ignorant” is not rudeness, but a lack of knowledge and/or understanding; it is through ignorance that people can be unintentionally cruel to friends who have been bereaved.

I hope many people read Katie’s article and will not cross the road through ignorance in future. I also hope children at secondary school will be encouraged to read and discuss her article, in a PHSE lesson, to help them understand, so they cannot be ignorant.