Choose your words wisely. A phrase drilled into our minds during childhood in an effort to teach awareness, kindness, and compassion for others. You never know the profound impact your words can have on another person. I never understood how much pressure exists in that lesson until I began walking this path of grief and loss.
In the first 24 hours following Cameron’s death, I heard the phrase “I’m so sorry” so many times. Over and over those words came flooding in. I could picture the look of pity each time I read it in a card or on Facebook or in a text. It made me want to punch them in the face. I didn’t, but I wanted to. I apologize if you were one of these people.
To me, I’m sorry is just pity. I don’t want your pity.
All I want is someone to acknowledge my pain. Tell me you think it’s shitty. It is. Don’t use platitudes or try to make me (or you) feel better. Escape the impending punch to the face and just say, “This sucks!” That is really what I wanted to hear. Very few people are brave enough.
I understand. That was me, before. It is an impossible situation.
Now, I find myself obsessed with how people react in grief situations. I will confess I become a Facebook post stalker when people have experienced loss. Honestly, I find I am constantly searching for people that really do it right. That’s what I want to bottle and share to help increase support and comfort in impossible situations.
While it is unrealistic to expect any tips can make someone feel more comfortable, I do think there is value in helping people hide their discomfort. Both sides feel that impact. So I’m going to share what I’ve witnessed. Where I have seen people rise above and do a stellar job. Some of it I have experienced. Others I’ve secretly watched from the sidelines. Regardless, this is a topic we can’t talk enough about!
5 Tips To Get Comfortable Around Grief:
- Practice simple statements of acknowledgement. You will feel the sentiment isn’t enough. However, it will be exactly what they want to hear. Keep the focus on recognizing their loss. Practice ahead of time until you feel comfortable saying it.
- What an unexpected, deep loss. You are in my thoughts.
- All of this sucks! (my personal favorite)
- My heart breaks for your loss.
- Life will never be the same. Your son will be missed.
- Thinking of you.
- Don’t shy away. Nothing bothers me more then having people ignore the elephant in the room. I met a friend for dinner 3-months after Cameron died. It was the first time I had seen her. Not once did she ask how I was doing.
- Send a text, email, call to tell them you were thinking about their loved one.
- Tell them they have been on your mind. Ask how things are going and what they have been doing lately.
- Say their name. It rolls off their tongue just as easy as it always did. Even if there are tears now, mention him.
- Silence is good sometimes. A simple hug. Sit beside them during times of grief. Squeeze their hand or shoulder. No words need to be exchanged. This can feel incredibly uncomfortable. Get OK with silence. Just don’t ignore their grief.
- Validate. Don’t assume. I am lucky to have a few friends that do this really well. It is hard to find.
- Note milestones. Ask how they are feeling about it, even years later.
- Everyone uses death metaphors or jokes by saying “I almost died”. After you’ve lost a loved one, people will use these phrases and then freeze up. When you think you said something stupid, and you probably will, point it out. One of my best friends will always say things like, “When I said that, did I upset you? I didn’t mean to.” By addressing it outright, even when it feels uncomfortable, you are making a huge positive impact to the person grieving. They will feel supported.
- Never assume something makes them sad, happy, angry, etc. Ask.
- No Expectations. Text, email, or call to check in regularly to see how they are doing. Let them know there is zero expectation to respond. Social interaction can be difficult for some time following a loss. It has been 17 months and I still have a friend doing this for me. If they want to reply or talk, great. If not, that is also fine. No judgement. No expectations. Just keep checking in!
Talking about grief and loss is difficult. Those of us grieving know people have the best of intentions. We do give allowances wherever possible. However, the reality is certain things no matter how well intentioned will sting. It is my hope these tips will help to make people feel more at ease and be better prepared with what to say.
Do you have tips that could help other’s be more comfortable around grief? What did you appreciate most?
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Emily, What a wonderful insight.
Grief is not talked about nearly enough. Acute grief and long term, is something we ALL will go through, probably more than once in life, and yet it is rarely discussed. Thanks for starting a dialogue.
Thanks for reading! I agree, grief isn’t talked about nearly enough. I hope to help make people more comfortable supporting others and understanding it.
I like that you mentioned addressing comments to address an individual’s feelings or needs. I myself have dealt with grief, especially since my grandfather passed last year. Being surrounded by people who are sensitive to your feelings and situation can have a huge impact on the grief process.
It really does! When people don’t acknowledge your grief or ask how you are doing, it can feel like your pain is invisible. That is difficult when dealing such a big loss in your life. Thanks for reading. Much love.