Last Sunday started like any other the one exception being that I had actually completed my blog post the night before and was not fretting over what to write. I clicked upload after a last-minute spell check. Then I began to search the internet for the barrage of memes, news stories, and YouTube shorts to harass the inboxes of my friends and family with. Because laughter and strange news stories are how I cope with the day-to-day stressors and losses.
It's Sunday evening, June 12th, 6:13pm and I have just pressed send to my family group chat regarding an interesting article about a Google engineer being placed on leave after he claimed an AI program had gone sentient. The phone rings. The call isn't good.
Psychology Today defines grief as, "the acute pain that accompanies loss." Loss is not just limited to the loss of people, but for the purposes of this article we are discussing the loss of a person in death. Despite what we have been told, time does not heal all wounds when it comes to grief. There is no timeline on grieving. The closer the person was to you the more passage of time is required to "get over the loss." Truthfully, we never get over the loss; we learn more effective ways of managing our feelings.
As I take a moment to step back and process the week that my family and I have had, I can't help but reflect upon all the well-meaning, yet cringey sentiments expressed. Today's article with focus on 6 things to avoid saying to the grieving and an alternate response to try.
Everything happens for a reason
To the grieving, nothing makes sense about losing a loved one. Regardless of the situation or circumstances surrounding the loss. There is never a good reason for losing a loved one. Nothing can make this make sense so please, we know your intentions are well-meaning, but don't say this.
I am sorry for your loss.
We see the tears. We feel the discomfort and just want to soothe the grieving. And though I know it just doesn't feel like this is enough, a simple, "I am sorry for your loss," shows empathy and the grieving whole-heartedly appreciate it.
They are in a better place.
Life can be hard and filled with tears and pain. Their loved one may have even had a grievous illness and had been suffering. Though no one wants to see their loved one suffering, that does not mean that they wanted their loved one to pass away. In the minds and hearts of the grieving family and friends, they would prefer to still be with their loved one.
I'm just a phone call away.
We often feel so alone when grieving. The grieving need love and support and just knowing they have someone they can talk to can be such a relief to the pressure of the pain. However, I will offer a caution with this one. Do not wait on the grieving to reach out to you! They often don't know how and feel guilty for bothering others. You reach out instead. If you fear overwhelming them, be honest and direct. Let them know up front, "I do not want to overwhelm you, so I will send you a short text that you can read when you feel up to it. Don't feel rushed or pressured to send me a response back. I love you."
God wanted them to be with Him / Heaven needed another angel.
I preface this by saying not everyone is religious. Often times because we live in a certain region where a certain religion may be more prevalent, we lax our guard and assume that everyone believes that way. However, the danger here is that not everyone subscribes to that belief system and even those who formerly did may no longer and it is not something they desire to put up for discussion. Additionally, even if the person is of the same belief system, think about it this way-losing someone to God does not make it hurt any less. It could also cause a person's existing belief or faith to waiver.
I wish I had the right words to say. Just know I care.
This is uncomfortable to acknowledge but it must be said. Our words can comfort others, but our words cannot heal them. Just show kindness. This is what the grieving need. Kindness that isn't judgmental.
God will never give you more than you can handle / put more on you than you can bear.
Okay again, bringing in religion is very risky here. Additionally, this statement can send the message that a grieving person is weak for feeling crushed at their loss. They may begin to judge themselves as less than or that they have loss the favor of God if they are not handling the loss well. Statements such as this sends the message that God had a hand in the death (what an awful message to convey). This may lead them to question their relationship with God, "If God loves me, why would he hurt me or test me like this?"
It's okay to not be okay.
It is never a good idea to tell a grieving person how to feel. Please don't tell someone who is grieving not to cry or not to be angry. The grieving process has 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). This process is not linear, and any one person may not experience them in the exact order presented. Some people may move from one stage to another and back again before fully moving into a new stage. So yes, seeing their tears or their outbursts of anger may make us feel uncomfortable but that is an "us" problem not a "them" problem.
AVOID THIS: I know how you feel.
At some point in life, we all experience the loss of a loved one. It may even be that the loss of our loved one is similar to how the now grieving person lost their loved one. However, no one can ever truly know how someone else is experiencing a loss because it is a very personal experience and journey to us all.
TRY THIS: I can imagine how you are feeling.
You have been through something similar so you can imagine how they might be feeling. However, rather than speaking for the grieving person, give them the space to identify their own feelings.
Doing or Saying Nothing.
When writing this article, the thought occurred to me "What if after reading this, the takeaway my readers have is to not say anything at all? This way they avoid the uncomfortableness of accidentally saying the wrong thing?" This is not the message I am trying to share. Then there are those out there who even before reading this piece, avoid reaching out to others because they are uncomfortable.
We often try so hard to help the grieving not grieve by not mentioning the loved one. However, many times, the grieving enjoy hearing those memories of their loved ones through the experiences of someone else. By sharing your memories, you are helping them honor their loved one by keeping their memory alive.
Grieving is a complicated process that is uncomfortable and heart-wrenching for both those experiencing grief and those watching the bereaved grieve. The grieving just wants the pain to end and things to be the way they were before the loss. The onlookers want an end to the pain of the persons grieving and for things to be the way they were before the loss. Grieving is called a process for a reason. As the grieving process unfolds, everyone has a looming sense of uncertainty of what to say, what to do, and how to be. There is no simple solution or shortcut; support and patience are what will get us all through.
I hope that through my grief and reflection, I have brought forth something of value to you dear readers or at least some food for thought. Please remember, wherever you are on this journey of life, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it (your healing) going.
To my family that may see this blog, please know that I love you. Each of us have our own unique feelings and experiences surrounding this loss and it is perfectly okay to not feel okay. We are going to have days both good and bad. But we'll have them together.
Until next time.
"Humor does not diminish the pain-it makes the space around it get bigger." ~Allen Klein
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