The Things You Shouldn’t Say To Someone Who’s Grieving
When my husband Peter died last August, I suffered the greatest ordeal imaginable. I had a deep and intense loss, but I definitely didn’t “lose” him. I, myself, am guilty of using the term “lose” on multiple occasions. I repeatedly said: “I recently lost my husband” to friends, accountants, tax people and even telemarketers. One day, when I was saying: “I had lost Peter,” I realized it was not true. I didn’t lose Peter. He died. I experienced a loss, but I didn’t lose or misplace him. Saying that I lost him implies I am careless and makes me feel guilty that I wasn’t vigilant enough to hold on to him. When you lose your keys, you expect to find them. When you lose your iPhone, you have the app Find My iPhone to locate your device. We expect to find the items we lose. Peter is not lost. He died and there is no Find Peter App to download and locate my sweet love.
When there is a death, many people say that the person has “passed.” This is another cliché that is hard for me to stomach. I assume this came from the belief of passing from one life into a spiritual afterlife. It is clear to me that Peter passed the gravy; he passed a football when he was young; he passed a gallstone; he passed notes in class; and for sure he passed gas; but he didn’t pass away. He died. He “slipped away” is another euphemism that I could easily avoid. I think of slipping away as escaping from being trapped. Peter didn’t slip away willingly. His heart gave out and he died.
I recognize that people want to comfort me. They may say things that are thoughtless but they are trying to help. I have learned a tolerance of others and am trying to educate friends, family, and the public through my blogging, on the best way to support me on my journey through grief.
Here is a list of platitudes and clichés that are upsetting to those who are journeying through grief.
THE TOP 10 WORST THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE IN GRIEF:
1. He’s in a better place. (A better place would be beside me now.)
2. Everything happens for a reason. (There is no rhyme or reason for this kind of loss.)
3. Time heals all wounds. (Time doesn’t heal all wounds, although healing takes time.)
4. Try not to cry. He wouldn’t want you to cry. (He’d be bawling his eyes out.)
5. It is time to put this behind you. (There is no timetable for grief.)
6. At least he lived a long life. If you think this is bad … (No comparisons, please.)
7. I know how you feel. (Do we ever really know how someone feels?)
8. Let me tell you about my own loss, which is similar to yours. (Please just listen and acknowledge my loss.)
9. Surely you’ll find someone. (This diminishes the person’s loss and their loved one.)
10. You’ll get through it. Be strong. (This tells people to hold on to their grief and not let it out.)
Now that we know what NOT to say to people who are grieving, here is a list of thoughtful remarks that help those who want to know the kindest thing to say in times of grief.
THE TOP 10 SUGGESTIONS TO SAY TO SOMEONE IN GRIEF:
1. I am sorry for your loss is the tried and true easiest thing to say.
2. The best thing one can say is “I love you.” Actually a hug is the very best thing, since one losing a spouse does not get hugs on a regular basis.
3. I wish I had the right words to comfort you. Just know that I care.
4. I don’t know how you feel, but I am available to help in any way I can.
5. I am always a phone call or email away.
6. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to hurt.
7. My favorite memory of your loved one is…
8. Please let me know how I can help you.
9. How are you doing this minute?
10. Say nothing. Just be with the person.
“At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me — some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it,” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it.” — Harold Kushner, Living a Life that Matters