A couple weeks ago, I got on the bus to go to school. I saw my friend, and sat down to chat with him. We talked for a bit about school, then I asked how he was doing. He was silent for a moment, then shared that one of his friends had recently passed away. He was clearly processing through the emotions of his friend’s death. As we talked, I asked him a simple question: “What was his name?”
Later, I saw this same friend, and he told me how that simple question really touched him. He said “I’ve told several other people about my friend’s death, and they’ve all been sympathetic, but none has asked me about his name. It really meant a lot to me that you did. It gave me space to remember him.”
I learned to ask this question from my peer counseling class. Grieving people want to be able to remember those they have lost. Yet many times, their friends are uncomfortable talking about death. They may give sympathetic condolences and change the subject. For those who grieve, remembering is part of healing. To remember inside jokes, big dreams for the future, the bar where they would always meet. In particular, when the death was due to illness, to remember what the person was like before sickness, to not allow the lasting memory to be frailty and weakness, but health and vibrancy.
So if you are with someone who is grieving, ask the simple question. “What was their name? Tell me about this person.”