As the lady described her family to me, she said, “My father’s mother had several brothers and sisters who enjoyed talking, and it was amusing to be there when they all got together because they all wanted to talk at the same time, and one of them would finally say, “Hush, I want to talk!” Later, another one would say, “Hush, and listen to me.”
When we are experiencing grief, we have a need to talk, i.e., to describe in detail to someone else what we are feeling and how we are reacting. We need to talk about the person we have lost and recount our memories of that person.
Talking out our grief is one of the most therapeutic things we can do, and if the listener begins to interrupt us, it is important and permissible for us to gently and lovingly say, “Hush, and listen.”
One of the most frustrating and irritating experiences bereaved persons have is that of trying—without success—to talk to someone who is either incapable of listening or who refuses to be quiet and listen without interrupting or injecting his/her own thoughts and judgments. A young married couple I know attempted to talk about some of their problems with an older minister; however, they never had a chance to discuss their problems because, instead of listening to them, the veteran preacher immediately launched into a glowing litany of his accomplishments. The man and his wife left that minister’s office in total frustration.
When someone is describing their grief to us, our role is not that of giving advice, judging, instructing, condemning, informing, or admonishing. We are there to be a “creative listener” which means that the occasional responses we do make are those of simply restating what the person who is speaking has said or asking a question for the purpose of clarification so that we understand specifically what is being said. The bereaved person has a need to talk, and, if that flow of conversation and expression is blocked, we may never have another opportunity to re-experience that depth of sharing. Their frustration with our failure to really listen might well drive them to permanently close the door of their thoughts and feelings so that they never again have to endure this kind of humiliation and frustration. They would consider their effort to open up and talk to us to be an “exercise in futility.”
There are times when bereaved persons need to say, “Hush, and listen!”