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After Dark, Fear is Near: A Grief Relief Column

Time and time again, I find invitations to evening events are declined by those who are grieving.  It is not that they are being unkind or that they don’t wish to spend those precious hours with you, nope, instead it is a more difficult truth to understand.  Fear.  Fear has a way of gripping us tightly and creating a sense of uneasiness that settles into our bones.  What we once found ourselves confident participating in, now becomes an uninvited adversary, whose layers run deep, causing trepidation and uncertainty.

For those who are trying to support friends and family who are grieving, attempting to understand or navigate alongside them often presents unanswered questions, or answers given that don’t necessarily make sense to us.  “Why can’t you go out to dinner?”  Typically the response is something along these lines, “Because I don’t like to go out after dark.  I’m afraid and would like to be safe and secure behind locked doors.”  What causes the confusion is that maybe that individual was always confident and “out and about.”  They never hesitated to attend events, go to new places or travel with friends.  However, adding the element of grief definitely alters things for some, and it is those changes that can be crippling.

Honest conversations with the bereaved demonstrate that with the loss, or presence of their loved one in the home, safety is threatened.  They feel vulnerable or ripe for being attacked, when in reality, it is their fear that is causing some of these thoughts.  In time, many will state that they have learned to conquer some of these feelings and are able to re-enter the world once again, confident and secure that they are able to function as they once did.  However, many others remain trapped in that state of uneasiness that continues to hold them back or prevent them from engaging with friends and family in the evening hours.

I write about this because many people simply don’t recognize that this is a real thing.  Feelings are hurt because a family or friend, in their bereavement, has declined to attend a birthday party dinner, a trip to see a late movie, a gathering of friends to celebrate the newest birth of a child.  Anger develops due to misunderstanding and not accepting that grief changes individuals and that those changes can become permanent whether we like them or not.  Those who are grieving often feel tremendous guilt because they cannot accept invitations due to the fear of “something may happen” and they struggle with not only hoping that others will understand but also with wishing that time will erase some of that fear, thus allowing them to regain some semblance of the life they once knew.

The bereaved are asking for your understanding.  They want to make it clear that so much has changed and they really do appreciate your reaching out to them, but they also ask that you be patient. They understand that this may be difficult for you as well and they are trying to overcome these feelings that seem so unnatural to them, and perhaps in time, things will be different.  But for now, fear is something that is very real, and with your presence and support, maybe that fear will eventually take a back seat to the hope that is knocking persistently at the door.