WHAT NOT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO IS GRIEVINGOct 25, 2021
Death waits for no-one and experiencing loss is as much a part of life as birth. If you’ve ever grieved, or experienced a loved one’s grief, you know the searing gut-wrenching pain of loss, worry about the future, intense longing for the past and emotions that plague the characteristic “stages of grief.”
It can be challenging to know just how to approach someone else’s grief, or even your own. You may be wondering what you could say or do to make a difference in the life of someone who is grieving. You may desire to more supportive of someone close to you who is experiencing grief, and wonder how you can be that person?
It’s natural to not want to experience loss, pain, heartache, disappointment, grief or mourning, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.
Most people deal with grief and loss through avoidance. We often resort to coping with grief or consoling the griever by changing the subject, stuffing it down, explaining it away in an attempt to prevent grief’s symptoms, or trying to get away from it quickly. Grief feels intensely uncomfortable, so sidestepping is our first reaction. Our second reaction is offering trite condolences at best, or at the worst, saying something thoughtless and unintentionally damaging.
Despite our unease with handling the rawness of grief, grief is best processed with the help of friends or loved ones. It’s important to remember that grief is as natural as bleeding when you cut your arm, and grief needs time and attention to heal. Just as ignoring the cut can lead to infection, thwarted grief can cause issues in one’s life, whether immediately evident or rearing its head later. As we all know, most cuts require the aid of others to properly heal.
As observers of grief, our tendency is to try to FIX or ease the pain of someone who is bereaved so we say things that reflect that rather than empathizing or acknowledging the griever’s experience. Consider these responses to grief.
“Your loss is a very difficult thing to go through, I am sure.” VS. “Get a grip!” The empathetic and apt response would be the former, in this case. Asking someone to minimize their grief or “snap out of it” so to speak only denigrates their uniquely personal experience, and will not have the intended effect. While you may feel inclined to say something to help the griever focus on life, rather than death, saying “I don’t want to talk about the dead. Let’s talk about the living instead” comes across as brash, and again serves to minimize the griever’s experience. A much gentler and more nurturing response would be “I will always remember him/her” or if you didn’t know the deceased, saying “It’s hard to see you like this, but why don’t you tell me more about the him/her.”
In an attempt to commiserate with someone who is hurting, we often try to draw comparisons to our own lives. A common response to someone’s grief is to compare a personal loss to the recently bereaved person’s loss. Consider saying “Do you need someone to go with you to choose a casket or marker?” rather than “I know what you are going through. I lost a kitten once.” Offering to help the bereaved take their mind off their loss momentarily can be good strategy, so saying “Can we go for a walk on Sunday afternoon and chat?” is a better option than “You need to take your mind totally off your pain.” Finally, the best possible response to someone else’s grief is inviting the bereaved to share their experiences with you, like saying “Tell me something special about your early days with him/her.” The absolute worst way to respond to someone’s grief is using the “in a better place” or “so much better off” condolence. “You should be thankful he/she is out of pain” is probably the most insensitive response to an admission of grief that you can utter, even if it’s intended to help.
My experienced the deep grieving process twice in a short amount of time, and as you can imagine, these experiences affected me deeply. It motivated me to become a student of what was going on in and around him. I observed how friends and colleagues reacted to me stunning loss of not just one wife to cancer, but my second wife as well, plus the early loss of my parents and other ‘life’ situations. I noted what people did and said that was helpful and what was hurtful.
The knowledge gained from my observations and research soon drove me to reach out and help others experiencing loss in ways that few had done for me . I began to see that most people, whether friends or family or in professional capacities, really did want to connect with a person in grief, but fear, ignorance or verbal clumsiness held them back. And just like First-Aid 101, there were things that could be learned.
What started as an occasional phone call turned into many requests regarding the grief process, or asking what to say and what NOT to say.
Kindly I’d ’d explain what it was like for me during the grieving process and what would have been helpful to me during this process. More than one friend admitted, “I didn’t know what to say.”
Out of these cumulative experiences of helping my immediate family and countless unknown connections across the nation, comes this book, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY: Being A Better Friend To Those Who Experience Loss.
This is not a typical book on grief. My dominant objective for writing this compelling story, interspersed throughout the book, is to help people — young or old, male or female, friend or professional — who find themselves close to a grieving individual. It is my deep desire to empower people to be better friends to the grieving.
My professional background includes many years of teaching. Readers will find that showing through as I shares practical suggestions for dealing with varying kinds of loss. For the hurried reader, there are lists that are helpful. The book offers practical insight and help on how to go through the tumultuous grieving process with others.
There are chapters devoted to losing pets, children (by any means), relatives and spouses, whether through death or divorce. I offer helpful insight in understanding gender, cultural and religious differences of people who are grieving and how those factors affect what one says and does.
Those in mourning will appreciate that I do not side-step the timing of heavy grieving. Empathetically I reassure the griever that in time one can emerge a whole person ready for wherever their journey takes them next.
Grief cannot be avoided. It will knock at your door from time to time throughout your life’s journey. But you can be prepared and you can be a better friend to someone experiencing loss.
This handbook for helping the bereaved can be obtained at; http://amzn.to/1OkLGuO
Want to learn how to be a better friend to someone experiencing loss?
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