5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving!

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Grief and loss are universal emotions. Just about everyone is touched by them at some point in their life. If you have the privilege of living into adulthood and old age then you will likely experience loss in many shapes and forms. There is the loss that comes from the death of a loved one or a cherished pet. There is the grief that can be felt on a national scale suffered from events like 9/11 and theater shootings in Colorado.

Grief and loss stem from other avenues as well. These include divorce, job changes, moving, medical issues, infertility, natural disasters and much more. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes and impacts each person uniquely. Just because someone appears to grieve differently doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. This is imperative to remember. Grief deserves respect; in both ourselves and others.

For those of you who have been through major losses, you have most likely experienced how often people say inappropriate things that can really disappoint. It is such a fragile time in one’s life and you may be extra sensitive to everything. Many people don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting. Often the person will attempt to make you feel better by trying to give you an answer as to why the loss occurred or tell you how you should feel. You may have also experienced those people who just avoid you because your loss is too uncomfortable for them.   These people don’t understand that all you need is caring and comfort, or maybe they just don’t know how to give it.

While the list of “Things Not to Say to People Who are Grieving” is quite long, for the purposes of this article I am focusing on the five that stand out to me as very common mistakes.

After sharing these ill-advised responses, I have offered some insight to the grievers to help them understand and to give them hope and encouragement. My top five worst things to say to someone who is grieving are:

1.“I know how you feel.”

When someone is going through a loss they are often consumed by feelings that are indescribable and overwhelming. Even if you have experienced the same type of event, such as the death of a parent or the loss of a job, this doesn’t mean that your emotional reactions to the event will be the same. While a miscarriage for one person may have little impact; for another it may spiral her into a significant period of grief. And while you may “know how they feel” the one grieving needs to be heard first and foremost. The grieving person needs your listening ear and comforting shoulder.   This is about them. Keep the focus on them and off of you. You can share some of the commonalities you have from your similar experiences at a later time when the grieving person’s feelings aren’t so raw.

To the griever:  Your feelings are uniquely your own and nobody can fully understand the depth of your suffering. Even those who may be sharing your loss may be grieving differently than you. Your grief deserves its own attention. If someone tells you they know how you feel in a way that makes you feel minimized or dismissed, move on to someone else who can give you the support and comfort you need. This is a confusing time and it is important you talk to people you feel can handle you right where you are. If you know someone who has been through a similar experience and that brings you comfort; then by all means lean on them.

2.“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

A while back I did an all-day workshop on loss. During one of the exercises people wrote on the board the stupid or hurtful things people have said to them. This response elicited strong negative feelings from those in attendance.   While this may be your belief system and even the belief system that the griever adheres too, saying it to someone who is in the midst of suffering is not encouraged. I think people often say this because they don’t know how else to comfort the person or they feel a need to make sense of the situation. Please be considerate of the other person and keep that thought to yourself for the time being. This is especially true when you don’t know the person’s belief system.Even people with a very strong faith system question God when they are going through grief. This is normal. The loss the griever is experiencing in the moment usually feels like much more than they can handle or ever imagined experiencing. Statements like the above can make the person feel minimized, angry and they may want to distance themselves from you due to their mixed feelings towards God’s role in their loss. This statement tells the person that God wants them to feel this pain or that God had a part in it. The grieving person needs time to process their feelings towards God as they move through the stages of grief.

To the griever: I have no idea why you are suffering the loss you are experiencing. “Why?” is a normal question that is often asked. No one has that answer. The situation is overwhelming. Feeling like it is too much to handle is normal and natural. You are only human after all. I hope you will seek out others who understand the difficult time you are having. This is a time when you need the safe support of those who can help you through such a confusing and dark period. Don’t try to handle these feelings all by yourself. Please allow yourself to lean on safe and understanding people.

3.“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

What an awful thing to say to someone who is suffering a loss. Yet, amazingly, this has been said to many who are struggling. Grief is one of the most unpredictable emotions. It changes you forever. Everyone has a right to grieve in their own way with whatever feelings they are experiencing. You and I have no right to tell them how they should feel. When the grieving person is responding in a way that doesn’t fit with what another deems acceptable, then often that person will make a judgmental statement or behave in a way that is hurtful to the griever.I remember when I received the news that my brother had been killed. It was first thing in the morning. It was shocking. Since my family lived out of town I had to spend the day coordinating the quickest way to get home. It wasn’t until the evening that I called my best friend from college. When I called her I told her what happened in a very matter-of-fact way. By that time I was completely numb; there was no sobbing, hysteria, etc. I didn’t hear from her for three weeks. When I did talk to her she said she didn’t call because I didn’t seem that upset about it! We didn’t speak for a year.That is an example of how my friend had an expectation of how I “should have” been when I called her. She made judgments about me because I didn’t respond in the way see deemed appropriate. And this is someone with whom I had been close. She was not able to take into consideration what had gone on for me all day and to understand where my head was. In fact, her clear lack of support made her judgment of me very evident. It took a while to make amends in that relationship.

To the griever: Whatever feelings you are feeling from hour to hour, day to day are normal for you and your situation. Please be careful not to feel guilty about your feelings. Not all the feelings you have will make sense to you. Surround yourself with people who can handle the depth of your feelings. The hurt that you feel when someone you think cares cuts you off or tells you not to feel that way is significant. Tell them when they hurt your feelings. If they keep failing at supporting you reach out to others who do provide the support you need. Sometimes the people who can understand your feelings may surprise you.

4.“Time heals all wounds.”

What a popular saying. Is it true? Maybe for some things. I don’t think it is time that necessarily heals the hurt, but what we do about our loss during that time. Either way, telling someone that time heals all wounds when they just lost their child, or when their husband of twenty years walks out is not really what they need to hear. Ask yourself what the point is in you saying that? How is that helpful? Please try and respect that the griever is in a very fragile state and doesn’t need trite answers or platitudes. If you don’t know what to say, you could say, “Just wanted to let you know I will be thinking of you and praying for you.” That is very kind.I imagine if we interviewed those who have been through various losses and asked them if they agreed with the statement “time heals all wounds” we would get mixed responses. From my own life I can say time has greatly helped with some of the losses I have experienced, such as hurtful situations in relationships, different transitions etc. I think it was a combination of time and my own personal growth. However, there are several other losses that “time hasn’t healed” and never will. While I may not walk around crying every day or talking about it, the injury is still deep and impactful.

To the griever: If someone or several people say this to you I apologize for them. It is a trite and aloof comment. Feel free to respond “Well it doesn’t feel like it.” Or just brush them off and seek out others who will not try and tell you that you will feel better soon or in time. While that may be true it isn’t what you usually want to hear. The timeframe of your healing journey is yours and will be walked through at your own pace.

5.“Call me if you need anything.”

This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. Others may not put it in their top five worst things to say to someone who is grieving, but I like to be different! This statement reminds me of when someone asked you how you are doing, but you know they really don’t care or have time to listen. Here is the deal. When someone is going through a loss then you can be pretty sure they are going to need something. Whether it is to go to the grocery store for them, put gas in their car, drive their kids somewhere, cook for them, clean their house, wash their car, cut their grass etc. My recommendation is to just do these things for them. You call them and say “I am coming over tomorrow morning to cut your grass.” Or, “I am going to the grocery store this afternoon and I need your list.” While some grievers may be comfortable asking for help, others are not. If fact, I know many people who won’t ask because they don’t want to bother someone.To the griever: I encourage you to let others help you and support you. Let someone cut your grass or clean your car or your house. Receive help. Now is the time to let others do for you. If you know you have a need, ask for help from someone you believe will be reliable. I am guessing many people have offered for you to call them if you need anything; so do it. I know it can be risky to ask for what you need, but now is not the time to be superhuman. I hope you will give yourself permission to receive the physical support you need.In conclusion, there are many stages in the grieving process and each of us will travel through them differently. Understanding this can be very healing for both you and others who are suffering through the confusing maze of loss. I hope you can be more accepting of both your own grief process and that of another.

To the griever: There is support out there for you! If you don’t feel you are receiving enough support or just need more, please consider reaching out. You can call a grief counselor. Grief counselors can be found in private practice, hospice, churches and your local community mental health centers. There are also support groups for grief such as loss of a loved one, divorce, supporting aging parents, etc. Please don’t struggle alone. Transitions can be difficult and it is human to need some support through them. I hope you will give yourself the care you need and deserve.

 

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Do I Have To Forgive You?

Judgement

To forgive or not forgive! The topic of forgiveness is not a new one.  There are many books written on the subject with numerous variations about what forgiveness is and how to forgive.  I am often saddened by this topic because so many of my clients have been hurt by the beliefs about forgiveness that others have projected onto them.

What is your view of forgiveness?  Is it the often heard “forgive and forget”?  This doctrine about forgiveness seems to be a common one many struggle with.  This message about forgiveness is usually something that was learned via one’s religion or the religion of their family.  Even people who aren’t particularly religious seem to face this simplified view when they are fraught with the idea of forgiveness.  This message of “forgive and forget” seems to permeate through culture and time.

So, am I saying we shouldn’t forgive? Am I supporting you staying angry and full of resentment?  NO!  That is not the point.  However, my guess is that each of you who have been hurt in some way need your own process of forgiveness without being judged by others.  Often I think the one judging is simple uncomfortable with your painful emotions and therefore attempts to avoid these emotions by pushing forgiveness on you when you aren’t ready.

Does forgiveness mean forgive and forget? Well, I will let each of you make your own assessment of that.  However, how do you forget horrific things that have happen to you?  Does forgiveness mean that you tell your offender that what they did is ok?  Do you have to acknowledge to the other that you forgive them for forgiveness to have occurred?  These are all great questions.

I assume most of you have listened to the many terrible things that have happen to others via the media. I have heard people whose child has been murdered say they forgive the murderer and I have heard others share intense venomous rage.  I try not to judge either.

In my view the forgetting is not necessary to forgive. In fact, we don’t forget.  We don’t forget that our partner had an affair with our best friend.  We don’t forget that our uncle sexually molested us for three years when we were young.  We don’t forget the drunk driver that killed our sister.  How would one ever forget these horrific events?

Forgiveness is part of the grieving process, and the grieving process is different for each of us. The most important part of working through offenses that have occurred is for you to learn how to slowly move to a place where you are not full of rage and anger all your days.  That you learn how to move forward in life and become more productive.  How can you turn this hurtful event into something that energizes you for change?  Many people who have been through unimaginable tragedies have created new laws to protect others from the same injury.  Others have formed support groups, written books and more.

Respecting others during difficult times is priceless. It is the greatest gift you can give them and the greatest gift you can receive during these times.  Consider supporting others around you who have suffered hurtful events.  Do not project your beliefs upon them.  Deal with your own uncomfortable feelings. Acceptance is invaluable. Give this to others and demand it from others during times of suffering and loss.

Are You Having A Positive Impact On This World?

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It is getting harder and harder to come up with creative ideas each week for my blog. Would love to hear from you! What do you want to hear more about? What do you want to learn more about? What interests you? I am here to be a blessing to you after all! I appreciate any feedback on potential topics of interest.
This week I have been thinking about the small things; the small things we do that may have a big impact on others. It seems all too easy to minimize who we are; minimize the value we each have. Have you often wondered what you are contributing to this world? Maybe not; maybe you are actively engaged in some sort of ministry like Marianne Williamson or Wayne Dyer. Well, if neither Marianne nor Wayne is reading this (and the countless other who are in the public eye) then sometimes you may wonder if you matter; if you are contributing enough.
I don’t think this is a bad question to ask. It is good to evaluate where your energies are directed and if you are happy with that direction. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget the bigger picture. The ‘whole’ if you will. You are more than just your daily routine. However, in that daily routine you can contribute much in ways you may not imagine as significant. Often it is the small things that may matter most.
Maybe it’s giving the person in line the few extra cents they needed to pay their bill. Or maybe it is helping someone pick up their mess after they dropped their bag. Maybe it is letting the person who has fewer groceries than you go ahead of you in line. The smile you shared with the woman on the elevator may be just enough to brighten her day. Taking time to make and deliver a welcome pie to your new neighbors. These may all seem too simple however, you never know what kind of day or week that person has had. You may be just the friendly gesture she or he needs to make it another day. Never minimize these small caring acts.
I remember when I was in graduate school (a long time ago) and I was in need of money. Someone anonymously left me $20.00 in an envelope! I still remember it today! I imagine you can think of small things that meant a lot to you. I am not saying that the big gestures aren’t important too, however, today I want to remind you the importance random acts of kindness. I read a quote yesterday that sums it up. It is written by Desmond Tutu and reads “Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put all together that overwhelm the world.” How awesome is that! Post this quote someone where you can read it daily.

What You Can Do To Care More!

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I recently started another one of my 12-week Women’s Empowerment Groups. During the first group I spend a significant amount of time talking about how to create a safe environment for this new forming group. An acronym I have used for years to assist me in this process is C.A.R.E. This stands for: Consider Others, Attentive Listening, Receptive Attitude and Encouragement.

The first aspect of C.A.R.E is Consider Others. It can often be clear what one wants, needs, believes, etc. And sometimes you can forget the others perspective or feelings. It is about expanding your sensitivity beyond yourselves in a positive way. It is about being aware of those around you and how your presentation, conversation or behavior may affect them. It is not oversensitivity; it is more of a consciousness of the other. This is not compromising yourself, it is just an awareness that you choose to pay attention to.

The next aspect is Attentive Listening. This is more than just going through the motions of looking like you are listening while you are really vying for your turn to share your viewpoint. Attentive listening is when you do your best to try and understand what the other is sharing. Not putting your own twist on it or passing judgment, but simple trying to understand it from their perspective. It is a wonderful gift to be heard. Attentive listening keeps the focus on what that person is saying until their thought process is complete.

Next, is Receptive Attitude. This is similar to be open-minded in the sense that you are being open to the other even if the other is different than you. Instead of passing judgment on the difference, you are receptive; open to this difference. You don’t feel the urge to have to correct or change the other. Ideally, it would be great if you were able to even find this new perspective interesting. It is easy to be receptive to others that view things the same as you do. It is much more of a challenge to be receptive and respectful to someone who shares a different opinion or viewpoint.

Lastly, is Encouragement. Most of you know what the word encouragement means. I think it is one of the most beautiful words. If we could all practice giving more encouragement to those around us the world would be a much lovelier place. It seems to be so easy to focus on the negative; or on what needs to be different. What would it be like for you to be conscious on a daily basis of being more encouraging to those around you? Try it; it might just encourage you too!

Try Acceptance For A Week!

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Today I have been thinking about the concept of acceptance. The thought of us as a community, as a people, as humans becoming more conscious of being more accepting of both self and others. I do a lot of work with clients on the aspect of being more self-accepting and it is often very sad as I observe how so many people I know both personally and professionally are their own worst critic. And from my view point usually that critic voice is learned very young. So I understand that it is often hard to be accepting of others when we have such a hard time accepting ourselves.

From my experience there is plenty of judgment in the world. Imagine what it might be like if each of us could practice being a little more accepting; accepting of people who are different from us. Maybe the person looks different from us, comes from different background or possible believes differently than us, whether it be religiously or politically. Imagine what it might be like if we practiced learning how to be more accepting of people who are dissimilar from us.

I wonder what makes it hard for so many to accept that others may feel strongly in an opposite direction of what one believes. And wouldn’t it be something if we could allow that person to have their belief even if it is starkly different from our own. I wonder how we would feel inside if we were to practice being more accepting of others. It seems to me that being judgmental appears to be easier for most. Finding the differences between ourselves and others seems to be easier than noticing the similarities. Being defensive with another who believes or feels differently than us seems to be much more instinctual. And I believe being defensive is based on instinct, however, I also believe that each of us can learn to respond non-defensively.

There really is plenty of judgment in the world. I don’t think you have to worry about not being judged, because judgment is just outside your door. And wouldn’t it be nice if each of us felt more accepted amongst our peer group and in general. My encouragement today, this Monday, is to think over your circumstances currently, to be more mindful of your actions with others. To become aware of ways you can practice being more accepting of people who may be different than you in one way shape or form. To be mindful of keeping your opinion to yourself and just allowing the other person to be, without trying to change their viewpoint or trying to convince him or her to feel differently. I encourage you to practice this during the week even though it may be hard. Then, observe what it feels like to be more accepting. Try out this concept of being accepting. I have a sneaky suspicion that not only will it benefit the other, but that it will benefit you too.

Bad Listener Trait Number One

Number one:  Interrupt all the time

This one is a sure favorite and one I am guessing we are all guilty of from time to time.  Isn’t it frustrating when you are trying to share something and the person is constantly interrupting?  There are many reasons a person might interrupt you. Some interruptions are valid when you are seeking clarification, “Did you say you handed that in ten days ago?”   Interrupting for clarification a time or two can show you are really listening and wanting to make sure you heard the person correctly.  However, even this can be bothersome if the person constantly has to stop and clarify.  The person talking may decide to shut down or may tell you to let them finish their story and then allow you to ask your questions. However, many interruptions don’t originate from such good intentions.  Often a person interrupts because they are impatient with the story teller, wants to correct them, prefers to argue the point, or they may be so narcissistic that they can’t bear the focus to be on someone else.

If you struggle with interrupting others I encourage you to make a conscious effort to stop or reduce the frequency.  Certainly seeking clarification from time to time is important.  However, try just staying with the person’s story.  Listening is not about agreeing with the person, it’s about respecting their viewpoint.  Remember the person is sharing their perspective, not necessarily yours.  And that is ok!  Also, remain alert to let them finish a thought before you interject.  You can even count to three before you respond to be sure they are done with that part of their sharing. Decreasing interruptions is a good start to becoming a better listener.