My good friend Kristin over at The Healing Group wrote this post a while back, and it really resonated with me. Grief is one of those things that most of us will not escape life without experiencing in some form or another. Grief can be crippling. It can change you as a person.
It's important to be able to process the grief in your life in a healthy... and to be understanding of others in your life who might not be themselves because of the burden of grief they are carrying around with them. I know I wish more people had followed these rules during the difficult grieving period I recently went through.
I hope this post helps you feel a little less alone... or that it helps to keep you from saying something really stupid:
As human beings, it’s in our nature to desire and strive for “sameness.” We like to feel secure and safe as much as possible. We create systems and protocols and procedures so there is a sense of structure and predictability. We do these things because, deep down, we know and understand that nothing is really ever totally safe, predictable or or constant.
Although death is an absolute certain part of our experience, in order to keep a sense of control and security we sometimes choose to ignore this facet of our human existence until it comes crashing into our world. When that happens to someone we know and love, or someone we may not know as well, but with whom we have to interact such as a co-worker, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to say. So, we either avoid that person, or we, with very good intentions, say something awkward and walking away wishing we had said nothing at all.
While there isn’t a comprehensive list of what to say, there are definitely a few things not to say:
“Call me if you need to talk.”
Those who have lost a loved one are in a very challenging time. Their feeling of “safety and security” has been altered and they may be trying to make sense of their new reality. During this time they may not know what they need nor when they’ll need it. Telling them to call you absolves you of any responsibility toward caring for them and places it squarely on their shoulders — which are already burdened by the loss they are carrying.
If you have the type of relationship in which you would call or visit, take the initiative yourself and do it, instead of waiting for them to reach out. Your timely phone call may be just what they then realized they needed.
“I understand exactly how you feel.”
The keyword in that phrase is, “exactly.”
Nobody knows exactly how someone else feels.
You don’t know the nature of the relationship or how the person viewed it. What may seem like a small loss to you (maybe a loss of a beloved pet) may be a big loss to them. Even if you have lost someone in the past, their situation is different from yours in unique ways you don’t understand.
Instead, saying something like, “You’re not alone. I love you,” is more helpful.
Just who do they have to stay strong for? You?
Grieving individuals need a chance to feel and express a wide range of emotions, from anger to sadness to confusion to hope and maybe back to anger.
Instead of telling them how to feel, you can be the “strong” one by giving them a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear to talk to, or a quiet someone to just keep them company.
“Well, at least she lived a long life.”
Old, young, middle, it doesn’t matter. Losing a loved one is never easy, even if the person is “prepared” and knows death is approaching. The passing of someone is final in a way not experienced in anything else this life. And your friend’s Dad was still her Dad — even if he was 92.
Instead, ask your friend about her loved one. Maybe she would like to share a memory or have someone look through pictures with her.
“What are you going to do now?”
Again, people experiencing a loss probably have no idea what they’re going to do now. Often the planning of the funeral and settling affairs makes it seem like the person is “busy” and “on top of things” when in reality they are going through the tasks associated with someone’s passing, but may still not have a clue about how to live their life without their loved one. As nice as it is to attend the funeral and send flowers, be sure to check back on your friend in a week or so, and then in a few months and sincerely ask how they’re feeling and doing?
The grief process is just that — a process. There isn’t a time-frame for anything nor an order to what emotions may be experienced. Giving your friends and family the time and space they need to feel and experience their loss is a gift and can be extremely life-enriching, life-affirming and allow for greater depth of healing.