This weekend I read an amazing book my sister passed on to me, Still Alice by Lisa Genova. It is the story of Alice, a brilliant woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. A year after her official diagnosis, Alice forms the first support group in her area for early-onset Alzheimer’s patients. There are already support groups for the care givers of these patients, but not a network of the patients themselves.
Once the patients meet, they share stories of the disease that only those dealing with Alzheimer’s really understand. Together they feel “normal” for a while. Three months after forming this support group, Alice gives a speech at the Dementia Care Conference and implores the audience to empower Alzheimer’s patients and rather than branding them with a scarlet “A”.
Similarly, people who’ve experienced the death of a loved one are often branded and isolation results. That’s why it is so important for grief support groups to exist – so people can feel normal and talk openly without judgement.
But I say, we can all do a better job of supporting those in our life that are grieving – if we are strong enough. Let them know you are there to listen. It may be while peeling potatoes over the kitchen sink with your mother-in-law. It may be asking a coworker how the first Christmas holiday after the death went during a quiet moment in the office mail room. It may be over a glass of wine at dinner. They may not tell you much but I guarantee they will appreciate the fact that you empowered them to talk about it. You acknowledged their grief and opened the door for conversation, whenever.
This Grief Awareness Day, 3/1/2012, let’s commit to empowering everyone to share their grief story.