The Open to Hope Foundation spoke to the Grief Support Coordinator at Forest Lawn, Galen Goben, about the challenges of putting words to grief after a death. Forest Lawn is an organization throughout southern California that helps with full planning of a death, including funeral, crematory and cemetery services. Goben has been serving as a grief supporter professionally for eight years with Forest Lawn, but also has 15 years of experience as an ordained minister. “Grief (can be) a completely overwhelming experience,” says Goben, and that can make it difficult to speak and listen in the language of grief.
“Giving language to things, describing something, being able to name it if you will, gives someone a sense of control with that.” Language is critical to the healing process, but it’s an area where many people struggle. A lot of people are naturally intuitive grievers and need to talk about it, but what if you don’t know the words? Plus, even instrumental grievers need to be able to get their hands around their grief so they can examine it and work through it.
The Language of Grief
Pain without language will only grow stronger. Asking a grieving person, “What is this? What word would you put with this?” can be a great help. Images, such as art therapy, can also be a type of grief language. When a person is able to say my grief “Is this,” that’s when healing starts to occur. Finding words or images helps people understand more. Goben also recommends “lamenting,” which is more than just complaints. It’s addressing the pain and hurt, yet acknowledging there’s another side—such as faith in God for some people.
The spiritual but not religious camp can get comfort in knowing that in the future, there will still be a relationship with the person who’s died. It provides honor. Goben particularly recommends a book of poetry, Psalms of Lament, to help start the language of grief process.