Michael Rosen used last night’s ‘Word of Mouth‘ broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 to explore the language of grief.
Following the sudden death of his teenage son in 1999, Rosen admits he tried to cope alone, not sure what help was, or is now, available. This gentle programme explores the ways in which language can support at this difficult time.
Rosen talks to staff at charity Winston’s Wish, who offer training to teachers and others who may be able to support bereaved children. Nurses and advisers alike stress the need to answer children’s questions frankly and check that they understand, noting the mistaken suffering of a child who believed his trip ‘to Devon’ was to follow his father, who had gone ‘to heaven’ and never returned.
Psychologist Colin Murray Parkes maintains there is no such thing as ‘closure’, that grief is the price we pay for love, and that we should not be afraid to talk to others about our grief even if it upsets both them and us. He sees grief as a job of work that needs to be worked through, a view supported by Winton’s Wish who feel that unless a bereaved child is offered help through language or another means of expression, pent-up grief may lead to youth offending or even mental illness later in life.
Michael Rosen also talks to Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Head of the Centre for Death and Society at Bath University, about more tangible ways to deal with grief. The discussion centres on memorial tattoos, which can incorporate tiny quantities of cremated ashes which allow wearers to retain some form of contact with their loved one: Rosen memorably describes this physical and visual acknowledgement of the death as a different way of letting go, marking the body but releasing the mind.
It is an intriguing programme, made easy listening by Rosen’s warm tones and caring choice of words. Even the lively interaction of the Death Cafe, where individuals are invited to drink tea and cake whilst chatting openly about death, felt comfortable rather than bizarre.
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