When my husband Peter died six years ago, I grieved with my heart and soul for my aching loss. I was in intense grief and I knew I had to stay there for a long, long time until I could power myself out of the pain. What pissed me off more than anything was the insensitive comments that were hurled at me. Which brings me to the wonderful line in Hamilton’s: Aaron Burr, Sir: “While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice. Talk less. Smile more.” I wish that people had heeded Aaron Burr and talked less and smiled more! The absolute best comment for me was no words, just a hug. OK, in the time of this pandemic, a hug is not quite yet fully safe (unless we are vaccinated), but just sitting with someone, socially distanced of course, and listening to them is the best you can do for someone in grief. Calling someone in grief on a regular basis is also a great help and soothing balm. Just being present in a griever’s life is authentic and helpful.
Grievers don’t want to be cheered up. Grief is painful and must be endured. Grief is a journey to be traveled not a destination. People are not insensitive out of malice, but out of ignorance. They see someone’s pain and tell them to be strong and it will be over soon. But grievers need to do the hard work in order to feel restored. There are no shortcuts when dealing with loss. Saying “I know just how you feel” minimizes the grievers pain and does not provide the necessary empathy they need.
Here are a few clichés to be avoided:
Instead of saying: “I get what you are going through because I went through the same thing.
Say: “Tell me more about how you are feeling now.”
Instead of saying: “You must be very angry that this has happened to you.
Say: “Most people are frustrated and angry after a loss, how are you coping?”
Instead of saying: “Try to remember the good times and not focus on your loss.”
Say: “What memories do you have of your loved one?”
Instead of saying: “You have to be strong for your family.”
Say: “How is your family doing?”
Instead of saying: “Everything happens for a reason.”
Say: “I am sorry for your loss.”
Instead of saying: “Try not to cry. He wouldn’t want you to cry.”
Say: “I wish I had the right words to comfort you.”
Instead of saying: “I know just how you feel.”
Say: “I don’t know how you feel but I am available to sit by your side.”
Instead of saying: “I know how you feel. My mother just died.”
Say: “Tell me more about your feelings of loss.”
Instead of saying: “How are you doing?”
Say: “How are you doing this minute.”
Instead of saying: “Surely you’ll find someone else.”
Say: “Stay in the present and know that I will be by your side to help.”
Please feel free to contact me via my website: www.lauriegrad.com
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