What's the true cost of hiding your grief? Rachel Stephenson revisits her TED Talk on why we should break the silence.
By: Halley Burns
2 years ago
When Rachel Stephenson was 18 years old, preparing to speak at her grandfather's funeral, she opened her mouth and found a different voice: her mother's.
"One of my aunts had asked me to read a poem on her behalf at the funeral. Each of her siblings said something during the service... I realized my mom was the one sibling that wouldn't have a voice during her father's funeral, and that upset me. I decided that day that she deserved to be acknowledged and heard, in a public forum, so after I read the poem that my aunt had given me, I looked at the congregation and I said, "Now I would like to speak for the one daughter missing here today—my mom, Margie, who died years ago."
She couldn't say much more after that, but those words were some of the most important she'd ever spoken.
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"My throat got really tight, and the priest on the altar had to rub my back to calm me. I don't even remember what I said next, but it was an incredibly important moment in my life, because for the first time in front of my mother's family and my father and my paternal grandmother, who were in the congregation, I said that my mom was with me and that she was owed something and that I wanted to be the one to give it to her."
An excruciating sob came from the middle of the chapel while she spoke.
"It was my dad," she recalls. "That was the first and last time he cried about my mom in my presence. By the time we found each other in the parking lot of the chapel after the service, he had recovered and he couldn't look at me. Our fleeting moment of connection had passed. I knew then that I would continue to speak out loud about my loss. My mom deserved to be remembered."
In Stephenson's recent TEDxCUNY Talk, "Against Grieving in Silence," she shares her own experience with grief and offers guidance for those who are suffering in silence. Watch the video below and scroll down for her full interview with Legacy.
"I would tell them: You are not alone. I know that you feel like your world is dark and turned upside down and devoid of meaning, and in so many ways you are right and these things are true. Your life will never be the same. But there are others who reside with you in the darkness—you may not be able to see them. They are hiding in their own dark corners, feeling as alone and afraid as you do. Take a minute to look up from where you are. Reach out. Feel for their fingertips, which might be reaching out for you too. The connections you create by sharing your grief could begin to heal you. Opening up creates opportunities to get support and share stories and see yourself reflected in others and honor the dead."
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