Some common words have a very clear meaning especially when used emphatically. For instance if I said “Stop”, you would have no doubt that I desired you to cease the activity in which you were currently engaging. There are other common words that usually have simple meanings, but can also have shared or complex meanings. When used in casual language, words like “simple,” “direct” and “immediate” are usually clear and simply understood. However, when used as a part of the funeral industry’s vocabulary, those common words take on very different meanings.
When life is stressful, we often attempt to find “the right words” to express our feelings, help us communicate with others and, at the same time, diffuse the tension we are feeling. This struggle to communicate effectively is readily apparent when people try to describe what they felt when they first heard the news that someone they love has died. Words like “shock,” “disbelief,” “anguish” and “numbness” are used to describe our initial response, but even those words seem to fall short of communicating how we feel. A close friend of mine said, as he stood at the bedside of his deceased father, “Karl, this is a place without words.” The problem is that where there are no words, there is no common understanding. Where there is no common understanding and people feel vulnerable, many will grasp for words and assign their own meanings trying to bring external order to their inner chaos.
If we can help guide our families to a better understanding of the words used at the time of acute loss, we can not only help those families navigate loss more effectively, but we can also begin to re-establish our professional relevance and the financial viability of our industry. At the Arrangers Academy we differentiate between the words “loss” and “grief” in order to help our families construct a common language for what they are experiencing. We understand that during the Acute Loss Period (the first 10-14 days after hearing about the loss of a loved one) feelings of loss are new and sharp. Our families need words to help them connect to what they are feeling. They also need words that will help them connect and engage with friends and family members around them so they can build an adequate support system. They need words that are compelling and authentic. Words that not only describe what they are feeling but that help them surface their feelings. They need starter words and ideas that provide a framework and context to their loss experience. They need words to guide their common journey and to nurture their individual experience with the loss. When they find these words they are empowered to use them as a platform to organize their inner thoughts and integrate those thoughts with their relationships.
Common words, if chosen wisely, can be used to build a healthy framework for both the inner journey and engage the external relationships that can help ease the transition from loss to grief. By guiding this process during the days immediately following the loss of a loved one, we can nurture our families’ emotional, relational and spiritual needs and redefine our place in the future of funeral services.