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Words and Phrases We Shared with Our Loved One

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

When your loved one died, you lost so much. This brief article is about one of those losses: the loss of words and phrases we shared with that precious person. Let me start off with a story. When I was 5 or 6 years old, one day my mother said to me, “Do you know what a boy’s best friend is?” I said something like, “I don’t know—like a dog or something?” She responded, “No, a boy’s best friend is his mother.” I probably shrugged and said, “OK.” As the years went by, she would ask the same question maybe once or twice a year. So, at age 11 or 15 or 20, I would answer, “Yeah, I know—his mother.” Fast forward 25+ years and my mother at age 66 ended up with terminal cancer and a stroke on top of it. She could not take food by mouth so she needed tube feedings every four hours. With a live-in nurse we were able to keep her at home. To help the nurse, each of us four siblings would stay overnight to give her feedings at 10pm, 2am and 6am. Many nights I remember being asleep on the couch when, at 2am, the clock jangles me awake. I get the feeding ready and stumble into Mom’s room. She gradually awakens, realizing it’s that time again. As I hover over her, I lean in and whisper in her ear, “What’s a boy’s best friend?” and, groggy as she is, she always responds, “His mother.” Every time I share this story in one of my workshops, I still feel the emotion of that moment—an intimate exchange between a son and his mother.

There is a term for the shared understanding of words and phrases between two human beings. It is: Shared Knowledge Structure. It is a type of short-hand communication whereby one person utters a word or a phrase and the other person knows exactly what is meant. It is what my mother and I had with that simple question and answer. It is one of the thousand things I lost when she died. Here is my question to you: “What words and phrases did you share with your loved one?” I don’t have to tell you, those words will continue to be precious long after your loved one died. Yes, it is a loss, but these shared memories tell us that our loved one still lives on in our mind and our heart.

And, isn’t that what love is all about?

Read more about grief reactions in my article on Grief and Sympathy.

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