The elephant in the room


I have noticed over many years that people often avoid (at all costs it seems) the mentioning of a deceased person; regardless of how long they have been gone. My question is why? (Of course there are cultural and religious reasons, which we acknowledge and respect). However here at OMG, we feel that using the name of a person who has passed away respects that person and also shows that you can acknowledge and be proud of the life you had with them.

We have identified a few reasons as to why this avoidance is such a common occurrence;

  1. The first reason is that we simply don't know what to say. Due to the possible risk of saying the ‘wrong thing’, many people take the safest and seemingly wisest path, of not saying anything. 
  2. We don’t want to cause our friend or loved one any more pain. Perhaps by naming a deceased loved one, in some way, it will cause the grieving to focus back on their loss when they may be trying to avoid thinking about the reality of the death at all.  Be sensitive and kind to your loved one, but don’t avoid naming the deceased as they can and often will simply change the subject which will give you a clear indication to not pursue that line of discussion.
  3. The thought that those around us are uncomfortable. For me personally, I make a point of mentioning the deceased person whenever it seems appropriate. I ask direct questions such as 'how are you coping now that ‘Peter’ has been gone for 4 weeks?' Or perhaps 'I was thinking about one of my great memories of ‘Peter’ today, when we were....' etc etc. (The truth is that I plan what I want to say and how I will say it before I even arrive at the house of the family and/or friends of the deceased).

When children are involved in the situation, whether they be children of the deceased or grandchildren, cousin or friends, I take the same approach of speaking about and naming the deceased in front of them. This has opened up the pathway for the young ones to talk about their fears and joys, questions and imaginations. It is often in these times that I can hear and ‘pick up on’ potential risks or thought patterns that are needing to be discussed or watched closely. Such statements of concern could include:

“I dream really horrible dreams about ‘Peter.’”
“I want to die and be with ‘Peter’ forever.”
“I’m so angry I want to hurt / kill someone.”

Such comments should cause us to be vigilant in ensuring they are safe and that strong support is around them. It may also be a trigger to get them professional help. The reality is that what I am listening out for in kids (as written above) are the same statements I am listening for in adults.

As someone who has been in the industry for more than two decades, it feels very comfortable to raise discussions around a loss. However if you are unsure as to what to say, don't let that discomfort prevent you from reaching out to someone grieving; simply be a genuinely caring and interested friend. Now, more than ever, your support is needed to help the grieving to keep taking the steps needed to 'go on.'

In many ways, the speaking of the deceased’s name  keeps their memory alive and shows that you’re proud of the life you had with them.

 Let’s eliminate the elephant in the room and instead welcome it.


By Steve Morrison