She never met him. We only became friends several months ago, nearly a year after his death. I told her stories. I said his name. I mentioned him from time to time in her presence. She has seen him in the pictures that hang on my walls.
I’m not a public mourner. I’ll speak freely. I’ll speak directly. When someone asks how many children I have, I still say two. If they inquire further, I say simply, casually, rehearsed and with restraint, “He died.” I say it with a quick nod, and I give them a smile and some disclaimer like an “it’s okay” that is really only for their sake. I can share the facts, but I don’t like to share the emotion in the moment with many— really, only a very select few.
And so, one day, when she slipped his name into conversation, maybe it’s the way it registered on my face, or maybe it was a change in my posture, or maybe it was the way I quieted at hearing him mentioned from another’s lips, she paused.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned him.”
I stood there, frozen, trying to find the words to express what I wanted to say.
I didn’t realize until that moment that my lack of expressing emotion was communicating the wrong message to others. And that’s when I realized the truth that I had never adequately shared.
I want you to mention him.
Grieving the loss of someone you love feels like carrying them around, hidden and invisible to the naked eye but your spirit heavy with their memory and presence. I carry him with me everyday, and these days, it doesn’t weigh me down as much with sadness. These days his memory stamped on my heart is as normal to me as the color of my eyes, the sound of my own voice.
When you mention him, you aren’t reminding me of him. He’s already intertwined with my every thought. When you mention him, you are reminding me that I’m not alone in remembering that he did exist, that he was here, and that he’s still mine.
I promise you that it’s okay for you to say his name.
I love to hear that he is remembered, acknowledged, and thought of by those who knew him and those who did not. I love to hear that you’re thinking of him, even if it’s only because you’re thinking of me, and even if your only connection to him is through our bond.
I can guarantee you that any temporary discomfort I may feel when you mention his name will quickly be overshadowed by gratefulness that someone took the time to acknowledge him, to think of him, and to let me know.
I want you to mention him, because it makes me comfortable to do the same.
We’re over the time of stigma and shame, but I only take the time to share with those who will truly listen and not shut down with discomfort.
I want to talk about him with ease and familiarity, in conversations with others that don’t always have to end on a sad note. I want to talk about him like I talk about my older son. Just like you talk about all of your children, I want to talk about all of mine. I want to be thought of as his mother, still, not just by myself, but also by others. I want to hear from others that they remember him, that they’ve thought about him, what he meant to them in their life.
I want you to mention him, because he’s still mine, and I’m still his.
The funny thing about death is that no matter how hard it tries to tear two people apart, it never wins. Some bonds can never be broken, even when you’re suddenly worlds apart. Somehow, you still stay theirs, and they still stay yours, and no passage of time could ever change that.
He’s still mine, and I’m still his. Forever. We’re endlessly tied, and because of that, I’ll forever mention him, and I’ll forever hope that someone else in my life will do the same.
It’s okay for you to mention him. It’s okay for you to say his name, because he’s as real to me as you are, even if I can no longer reach out and touch his face.
Mention him. I promise it’s okay.
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