5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving!

grief image

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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Another Takes Their Own Life!

young girl

For many of us who live in Pinellas County it was just yesterday that we read in the local newspaper about a young, talented local girl who recently graduated valedictorian and was attending a prestigious university who apparently jumped to her death.   And not long prior to this tragedy a local teenage boy who was a very talented swimmer and from all accounts was jovial and happy, ended his young life.

While I don’t know the specifics of either of these individuals’ situations it breaks my heart that so many of our teenagers don’t make it into adult hood.  I don’t want to age myself when I say “times have changed!”  While during my teenage years their certainly was a lot of drama that occurred and, yes, there was competition amongst students for various reasons.  It seems to me that the pressures on our young kids today is amplified compared to the days of past.

It isn’t just peer pressure; we currently have higher educational demands.  A weighted GPA’s above 4.0 is common.  Now dual enrollment is seen frequently.   College admission requirements are demanding more of their applicants.  The increase in pressure in the sports arena is also evident.

I am not saying some of the changes that have occurred in the educational and sports arenas’ aren’t good.   However, one may wonder if we as a culture have gone too far with these increased demands.  As adults we know the pressures of today’s world.  In theory, we are supposed to be more equipped than our adolescent children to handle these multiple stressors.

And so I ask; what are we to take away from these local tragedies and the many others all around the globe?   Since most of us don’t know the families immediately touched by these losses, what can we do to help?   Maybe we could each choose to be a little kinder to those around us.  Maybe the next time someone accidently cuts you off in traffic you can be more patient.  Or you could be more patient in the grocery line, perhaps even let someone who has less groceries go ahead of you.

My kids often get embarrassed by me because they say I talk to too many people.  They will even ask me why I have to talk to everyone.  And my response is “why not?”  What’s wrong with being friendly?  In essence, maybe we adults can move slower and be more mindful of those around us.  We can take less for granted and be thankful for what we do have instead of focusing on all we don’t have.

And those of us who are parents I imagine we can be as alert as possible to the surrounding of our children. Also, to focus more on the positive traits of our children and point out the many things they do correctly.  How easy it is to notice all they do wrong, sometimes it’s almost second nature.

So today I implore each of us to notice the positive before the negative.  Share with those in your life what you like before sharing your complaint.  Be more encouraging than discouraging.  And pray for those who are suffering that they may reach out for support and that support will be given.  For whoever really knows the soul of another!   Here is one of many links if you want to learn more about suicide prevention:  http://www.apa.org/research/action/suicide.aspx

 

 

 

Things Not to Say to People Who Are Grieving – #5

telephone
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 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.

Things Not to Say to People Who Are Grieving – #4

Time
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 on their behalf.  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.

Things Not to Say to People Who Are Grieving – #3

friendships
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.

 

Things Not to Say to People Who Are Grieving – #2

cross
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.

How We Remember Those We Have Lost.

loss
Today we all honor another Memorial Day and take time to be acknowledge and be thankful for the many brave men and women who have lost their lives or been injured serving our country. This day also causes me to reflect on ones I have lost in my own life. I imagine this could be true for others as well. Loss has a way of changing one, sometimes in ways you would never have imagined. And I think about the ways each of us memorialize or remember those that were once close to us that have now traveled on. And I know for each of us that the need to do this and the way to do this is different. What is important is that we each do it in the way that will be most helpful for our journey through grief.

I remember when I was growing up there was a local family who had one child. I wasn’t overly close to them or their daughter, but I had grown up with her. I remember knowing they wanted more kids. I think she was 12 or so when her brother, Bobby was born. When her brother Bobby was five his dad took him along on a business trip. The bus they were on crashed and Bobby was thrown from the bus and killed. I remember how tragic this was. I bring this up because I have never forgotten Bobby, or his family. I wasn’t involved enough with this family to attend the services. However, I did go to our local swimming pool almost every day. And at that pool the family planted a tree in honor of Bobby. Of course at the time it was a small tree, however as an adult when I traveled home I visited the tree watching it grow with time. The tree is now very large and beautiful. While Bobby’s family may have done that as their way of honoring Bobby, it was also good for the community.

I realize that the way each of us want or need to honor someone close to us who has died is different. I remember when I experienced my first major loss I lite a candle every night in honor of this person. Also after that first loss I developed an infinity for angles and cherubs. These gave me a sense of hope and comfort. I still collect them today. Some people have rituals of visiting the grave site on the person’s birthday, anniversary of their death and often, Memorial Day.

If you have lost someone close to you I hope that you have ways to still honor them in your life. Maybe you have others that remember this person too so that you can talk about him or her whenever needed. Maybe you have a garden you created to remember this person. Maybe you continue a ministry that this person started. Or maybe you are involved with his or her children as a way to honor and stay connected to your loved one. I encourage you to create or continue healthy rituals that will allow you to warmly connect with your loved one that has traveled forward and left you behind.