Say My Loved One's Name, Please!

Mourners have a need to remember their loved one and to speak of them often.  The need to say the loved one's name, to hear others say the loved one's name, to share memories or to tell their story of loss again and again over even long periods of time is not a morbid or pathological need if the person is mourning in a healthy way. The need to remember and talk about the loved one who has died springs from  the deeply held desire to keep the person "alive" with treasured memories, physical keepsakes and meaningful rituals.  Mourners live with the unspoken fear that everyone around them will forget the loved one.  Worst of all, mourners fear that they will forget their loved one.

But many times family members and friends around the mourner keep silent about the death, their grief, the mourner's grief, and the loved one no longer present for four reasons:

  • They want to protect the mourner from grief thoughts and emotions that they fear will upset the mourner. The truth though is that in order to mourn in healthy ways both the mourner and those around him or her must process their grief by expressing their emotions and talking about the person who died.  Grief emotions suppressed for long periods of time either come out in (1) unwanted, explosive, and sometimes destructive ways or (2) cause the mourner to implode or collapse emotionally causing potentially dangerous mental, emotional,  and spiritual conditions.  In fact, most mourners will welcome the opportunity to remember and talk about the loved one even though they may experience painful emotions.
  • Thinking or speaking about the loved one who has died is too painful for them. Grief emotions cannot be avoided.  They are relentless in trying to get the attention of every mourner and will grow worse until they are acknowledged and expressed.
  • They fear that continuing to speak about the person who has died will only prolong the grief process. Venting and voicing grief emotions facilitates healthy mourning and "moving on" with life.
  • They are hoping that by getting on with their lives and leaving the loved one in the past that they can recover more quickly from the loss. We never stop loving the person who has died.  Grief is our overflowing love expressed for the person no longer physically present.  The expression of grief in healthy mourning behaviors remembers and honors a valuable life.  Healthy mourning also brings emotional and spiritual healing to the person actively and openly grieving

For mourners, their family members and friends to heal, they must talk about the elephant in the living room--the terrible, over-powering grief-- that we all would rather ignore or avoid.

The need to talk about grief for the mourner is best expressed in a poem by  Terry Kettering:

The Elephant in the Room

There's an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, So it is hard to get around it. Yet we squeeze by with, "How are you?" And "I'm fine," And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work. We talk about everything else – except the elephant in the room.

There's an elephant in the room. We all know it's there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together. It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very large elephant. It has hurt us all. But we don't talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please say her name. Oh, please say her name again. Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room. For if we talk about her death, Perhaps we can talk about her life? Can I say her name to you and not have you look away?

For if I cannot, then you are leaving me.... alone.... in a room.... with an elephant.

Posted by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX