According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to bear witness is to show that something exists or is true. In the context of grieving a loss, bearing witness means to listen and validate that what I am feeling, and have experienced are real. Maya Angelou said “there is no greater agony that bearing an untold story inside of you”. Whom of us has not had the weight of some secret upon us that we did not want to, or could not tell.
When I tell you my story whether or not you actually bear witness effectively depends on my perception of how you receive what I am saying. If I feel that you have really heard me, or at least attempted to understand, than I will feel validated. Many people who are grieving feel that they have a limited time to tell their story. After the initial loss, the allotted bereavement days and funeral they feel like they are being told “enough already, get on with your life”.
For me, writing is a way of bearing witness to my own stories. To get it outside myself and see it in writing. It reflects back what is on my heart and mind. It is a way to acknowledge where I was, what I went through, and gives me a place to start my future.
I also like to read what other people are writing about their experiences of grief. When I read others’ stories and I’m able to feel a connection, see that they are surviving and how they got there. I am fortunate to have friends and family who continue to listen to my story. I am comforted because I am not alone.
If you know someone who is grieving, you don’t have to know what to say, just listen. Take the time and check in on them. Remember to call or text on holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. Just that small gesture helps.