When a loved one dies, grief can be compounded by how others react and treat you. It is important to be careful about what you say.
I have recently been talking at length with a newly widowed woman I know about the things people say to her. Some people try to be supportive and kind. More have the “open mouth and insert foot” disease. For example, all those folks who say, “I know how you feel.” Don’t. “You will meet someone else.” Not even a thought. “You are still young….” or “At least you didn’t have little kids.” The “at least” statements are particularly thoughtless. Anything you might want to say that starts with “at least” will only cause more pain. Stop yourself.
We will call her Camille to protect her identity. It has been weeks since Camille’s husband died suddenly. She is amazed by which of her friends have been totally absent and by the ones who stepped up to offer support. That is painful enough but the ridiculous things people have said is more surprising.
Camille ran into a co-worker who asked how she was doing. When she shared that her life was quite awful at the moment, the person replied, “still?” OMG I cannot believe how this person could think a few short weeks would be enough time for someone who just lost the love of her life to be recovered. Apparently, this person has never lost a loved one or has never cared deeply enough to understand the level of insensitivity he just inflicted. Another colleague asked her how her “vacation” was going. Vacation? She hasn’t been able to go back to work yet. She had no idea that her co-worker equates her time off to grieve as a vacation. who would want to go back to an environment where people have no compassion or understanding of how to be supportive. It makes it that much harder.
When my son died I was told that I could have more children. At least he was no longer suffering. Well, at least you had him for nine years. God never gives you more than you can handle. It’s a good thing you are so strong. And after three or four months an acquaintance who had four children was astonished that I was still sad that my little boy had died. Still? I am still bitter after all these years. to quote Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
If you are the victim of such hurtful non-helpful statements, please speak up. You will feel better and you might just teach the person a lesson so they don’t make the same monumentally awful mistake again. Speak up and let your friends and family know how their absence, lack of support or unhelpful statements make you feel. Your grief, your feelings, means you have the right to be heard.
For friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances do not expect the person who is grieving to behave the same way you did when you suffered the death of a loved one. Do not expect anything from him or her – period. Just be present. Follow his or her lead. If you don’t know what to say just be honest and say, “I am sorry. I don’t have the words that will magically help you, but I wish I did. Just know I am here to help if you need to talk or if you need my help.” Then, check in periodically by saying something like, “it must be extremely difficult for you. I would be happy to bring you a meal, wash your windows or do your laundry.” Then, do it. Just remember it isn’t about you. Do not say, “I cannot imagine what you are going through.” “I couldn’t do it.” “You are so strong.” Not helpful.
I would be interested in hearing from you. Please share some of the unhelpful advice, remarks, statements you have endured. I will add your stories to a future blog post.