Grief is something we all experience, yet it isn’t talked about. Grief is uncomfortable, it hurts. Generally, as a society we haven’t been given the tools to work through grief or be comfortable around it. We are often taught by our loved ones that we need to get over it or at the very least not talk about it. To keep our pain hidden.
When we are struggling with the loss, some of our well-meaning friends, coworkers and family try to come up with something to say, they try to fix it. They desperately try to fill the quiet, painful silence or to stop our tears with well-meaning but wrong statements. Like:
- God must have needed another angel in heaven.
- You’re young. You can marry again.
- You can always have more children
- They’re in a better place.
- You’ll be fine in time
- I know how you feel
- You’ll find another job, that one sucked.
These are intellectual statements and they don't work on a broken heart. The cause of the loss itself is intellectual, but the reaction to it is emotional.
Grievers hear their loved ones say these things that aren’t helpful and are often hurtful without that being their intent. But we all know the road to hell is paved with good intensions. I have been that loving friend who tried to make it better (I’m a fixer), take away the pain and move onto to something else. “Don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened” Dear Lord …I was that person…no griever ever needs to hear that!! I never realized that I wasn’t helping at all. I thought I was making it better when I was making them feel worse by saying things that told them in a roundabout way that what they were feeling wasn’t valid or true. That their feelings didn’t matter and that their feelings were wrong. In trying to fix their feelings I made them feel like they couldn’t be honest and had to hide their pain. They lost trust in me and in themselves. I WAS NOT HELPFUL.
The hard truth here is we don’t know how anyone else is feeling. We can’t tell them how to feel. We can relate but we don’t know. No one knows how they are feeling, only they know.
As a friend, loved one or coworker it’s not our job tell them how to feel, to correct or council the person grieving. We need to listen without judgement, analysis or criticism. Here are some statements that can be helpful:
- I can’t imagine how (painful, devastating, heartbreaking)
- I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. (We cannot know how they feel so this is a very truthful heartfelt statement)
- Can I sit with you awhile?
- My favourite memory of ______ is…
- I’m here for you however you need.
- I’m so sorry.
Grievers don’t need to be fixed or told the need to feel something other than what they are feeling to make this painful time more comfortable for everyone else. Its important to listen to them and love them where they are without trying to make it go away. You can take the pressure off yourself and be there for them how they need. Sit with them and listen. Respect their way of grieving and don’t give advice. Be there for them in practical ways, help out with practical tasks, bring a meal and stay connected and available. Grieving people want and need to be heard. Be a safe place.
"Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable." David Augsburger