Grief and what to say or not to say 9

Grief and what to say or not to say (8)

The following are some things people have shared, some I also had to deal with, and some that I collected regarding this issue.  They are in no particular order but best advice that I can give is is someone is going through grief and you are going to be around them…think about you say because a lot of what people say…they should not say and some comments really hurt others. To those that shared info with me I can’t even give them the credit due to them because I don’t know.  People share a lot of things and when something should be said at some point I try to write it down so that when the opportunity comes I can share it with someone.  

Anyone who has gone through the grieving process at some point can look back and think about what people said to them when their loved one died.  I think this is one of the hardest lessons people can learn about death is what to say or not to say to someone who is mourning. 

At first when the death has just occurred people want to help the person/s suffering.  They want to say something encouraging but many times over what they do is cause the person that is grieving more pain.  They don’t do it on purpose but some comments just should not be said. 

Grief is hard.  The pain is real and so when it comes we wish we knew more for our self, and we wish that those we cared about that try to help would have known as well.

No matter how prepared you think you are for a death, you can never be fully prepared for the loss and the grief. Someone can be sick for years even and then the dreadful day comes and they are gone and what then? You will still grieve.  You can prepare for it but that doesn’t mean it won’t hit you still like a ton of bricks.  There will still be a loss and that loss still has to be dealt with.  I have seen and heard that many people have had a long time for which they had to prepare yet when the time came they still fell apart just like those that had no time to prepare.

You can plan for death, but death does not always comply with our wishes or plans. If you are young you think you will live forever and so will those you love.  If you are older you didn’t accomplish all you wanted to in life and you don’t want to leave those you love so much.  We can prepare all we want and a lot of it might greatly help, but there comes a time that things just don’t go the way we prepared for.

“Stop avoiding and be present”. Well this one I am not sure of.  I have heard it but as much as I have heard it I don’t fully agree with it.  You can try to be in the present when your loved one dies, but your brain and being won’t allow it for it needs to grieve.  Others want you to stop avoiding things and get on with life and that will come in time, but it is not overnight and your “present” might take some time.

“Dying is not like you see on TV or in the movies. It’s too real”. It doesn’t go away like at the end of a movie.  It stays and it takes hold of one’s soul and it is real.  In a movie or TV series death is handled casually.  Medical examiners, cops, firemen,  EMT’s and the rest are smiling and going on, and people just go on.  In real life there is pain. Does a medical examiner in your eyes do you really want him kidding around in the lab while your loved one is on the table. I don’t! The reason all those games kids play today…well they desensitize the kids and the kids don’t see the real pain and sorrow that follow all that murdering in their games. I look back to the time when TV begun (yes, that old) and this stuff didn’t go on.  You didn’t see guts flying everywhere and people were nice to one another.  I miss that time because people cared about people.

A hospital death is not always a bad death. Really? All death is bad.  Whoever says that dying is a hospital is not a bad death has not faced the death of a loved one.  Oh, they might have care and people taking care of their needs but that doesn’t make it a good death. Death is death people and weather our loved one is killed on the battlefield, in an accident, drug overdose, violent crime, or whatever…death is death and there is a sting to death and it hurts. Don’t get me wrong…there are people who die very well and gracefully if that is possible.  They know the Lord and where they are going and are at peace with the time comes.

 “There will be pressure from others to move on, even minutes or hours after a death. I had people tell me this after the death of a loved one.  Move on? Are you nuts?  First I must deal with my loss and grief and get my life to some kind of normalcy then, and only then, will I be able to move forward.  Yes, they do mean well but they are not thinking here.  How do you, at this time of losing those you love so dearly, just get up and move on? You are not on a timetable of grief.  There is a time to mourn and all are not the same.  However, I doubt by the many I have talked to that this would make them very happy to hear “move forward”. You do what is best for you so that you can make it through.  At some point we do move forward and go on with life.  At some point we hear the birds again, and the sun comes out.  We know when. 

“Death is not an emergency – there is always time to step back and take a moment to say goodbye” Really? Whoever said this didn’t know what they were saying.  Death is not an emergency. To whom is it not an emergency? Surely not to the one who is hurting and their world has crumbled for the time being. We all do have to say goodbye to those who go on but we don’t have to forget them…we just have to in time let them go so we can go on.  We don’t forget them.  We think about them…but we have to at some point (when we are ready) to let them go.

Death and grief make people uncomfortable, so be prepared for awkward encounters. As I have said many times people try to help.  Most people don’t have a clue what to say or not to say and even if they did the time is all crazy and people do say and do crazy things even when they try not to.  Many are just as uncomfortable as you are in having to talk.  They just want to support you in your time of grief and sometimes even they can make it seem harder. Forgive them as they are really trying to help.

You will plan the funeral while in a haze.  Sometimes our best intentions come out not the way we planned.  So what? If you don’t feel like you had what you wanted then at some later date do something special for you and your loved one and remember them.

People try to offer you support. When they do, if at all possible, take them up on it.  If you don’t feel you can then gently tell them no…not for now. You live with this and as much as people do want to help sometimes even they can make it worse.

People will bring you food because they don’t know what else to do.  I know that these are servants hearts.  They so want to do something/anything and to some this is the way they show they care.  I remember a few that did this and I can tell you that I truly appreciated it with all my kids at home. It was their way to help.

People say stupid things without even knowing they are doing it.  They tell you to go on, get over it, you have other kids/whatever, and a million other things.  They just don’t think about what they say or what they would want to hear if it were them so they just talk. Forgive them because they don’t understand how hurtful they can be.

Death brings out the best and the worst in families, so be prepared. I saw personally the best of people and the worst and most families do as well.  I won’t go into this personally, but what happens within a family should always be good and it is not.  Just beware of the vultures out there and know that you will make it through. 

There is no such thing as closure. Closure? No, there is not a magic wand that takes away your pain or gives you complete closure.  The person is dead and won’t be back and you know that.  You might have closure in someone being brought to justice if that is the case, and you go on in life after death but that person is always missed.  You just turn your pain out and bring something good in now not to take away what you feel for them, or replace them.  No one can be replaced.  You go on…that is not closure.  It is reality that you must go on and live again, but you won’t stop loving them in your heart.  So I don’t agree with people saying there is closure.  A part might be closed so you can go on but you still feel.

There is no timeline for grieving.  You can’t rush it.  You will grieve, in some form, forever. Grief is real and everyone’s time table is different, but just because many days, months, years go by doesn’t mean we still don’t feel that pain at different times.  We might not show it as much as we used to  but there are still things, times, people, places, and things that bring different things to memory.  It is okay. It is when we hurt day after day and never get over it that we need some help.  My son’s birthday, Christmas, holidays, and the day he died I remember them all, but over the years they are there yet….easier and less painful to deal with.  Maybe there are some people out there that say they never think of their loves ones.  I have found that most people who I have talked to or had correspondence with tell me just like I feel.  As long as we remember them in some way they are always in our hearts. 

“No matter how much time you had, you’ll always want more”. Time is a strange thing.  To God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.  To me time stood still in some ways.  My son doesn’t get old.  I still see him as I last saw him.  I will always think I didn’t have enough time with him.  He didn’t deserve to be killed….who does though?  I see all my other kids grow up and get older and he was the oldest and all I see is this beautiful young man who always made me laugh.  He never grows old in my heart.  Odd isn’t it?

Guilt is a normal part of grief. Oh, those guilt trips and all the only “ifs”.  This alone deserves a book by itself.  I don’t need to go there now…we all know the guilt trips of our brains.

Anger is normal part of grief. Anger, there could be a book written of the anger of grief as well.  You see anger is a normal part of grief.  We get angry at God for allowing it, not fixing them, not keeping them safe. We get angry they left us and we won’t ever get that time to tell them how we feel.  We get angry…we just get angry and know something…God knows we get angry.  He wants to help us but for a time we just might have to feel angry at whoever we think or believe caused our pain.  Then at some point we do take it to God and God will help us deal with that pent up anger.  Life happens to all of us.  Tragedy happens and as much as we don’t want any part of it…we live in a world of evil and pain and suffering and all we can do is our best to get us and our loved ones from A…being born…to Z…getting to heaven.  The in-between is life and life happens to all of us in one way or another.  No one will make it through life without some pain.

Grief can make you question your faith. Oh, for sure it can.  You thought that you would make it through life if you had your faith and nothing bad would come your way, but God never said that.  He said that in this life we would suffer. Why? Because we live in a fallen world.  Stuff happens and it hurts.  God will still be there after you question your faith.  He stands at the door and will until you open it again. 

Grief makes you feel like you are going crazy. Oh, yes, for some of us it surely does.  Our minds don’t think right, we say and do things we don’t understand.  We get depressed and cry and laugh and. And, and .  We are not going crazy…we are in grief.

Grief can make you question your life, your purpose, and your goals.  I would say that most people going through grief do this.  What is your life? What is the meaning? What you might have considered your goals together just got shattered and now what? This is normal.

We all grieve differently, which can create strain and confusion between family members and friends.  You can have a huge family even and every single one of them can grieve the one who died differently and its okay.  No one truly understands why a houseful of people all love the person who died…and yet they all grieve differently and for different periods of times.  Just because it looks like someone isn’t grieving like you think they should doesn’t mean they don’t hurt as much as you do.

“However badly you think it is going to hurt, it is going to be a million times worse”. I don’t know about a million times worse as some say, but it hurts a lot.  It is like your lungs not feeling up with air to breath.  It does get better in/on your timetable of grief.

You may find comfort in very unexpected places. This is a biggie because you just never know what or who will comfort your pain.  Sometimes even so much as a smile on a bad day or a phone call can comfort you in ways you don’t even understand.

 “The last 24 hours of their lives will replay in your mind”. I guess this does happen.  It did for me and I can think of the day and see the day play out all over again.  This is not always a good thing, but it can be.  It depends on the person.  We can’t turn our minds off completely so we d remember.  The greatest thing of the day he died to me was that right before he walked out the door he kissed me and told me he loved me.  I can’t even imagine if we would have had words and that didn’t happen.  I know that has happened for many people and for me that was the only blessing that happened that day that kept me going. 

Trying to protect children from death and the emotions of grief isn’t helpful. We can’t protect our children from the pain of everything and we shouldn’t.  Kids grieve too.  When my grandma died when I was 9 my heart was devastated and no one shared anything.  I loved her so much and I didn’t even get to go to her funeral.  Believe me the funeral would have been better than the pain I felt from not going…but each person is different.  No one talked about it with me.  She is dead. Dead where? What was death? Where did she go? I hurt and I hurt for years inside because I was close to her and her death hurt me…but nobody seemed to notice. Talk to your kids about death and what happens, and ask them if they want to go to a funeral.  Not all kids can go.  It is okay and it doesn’t mean they don’t care.  Give them that choice. 

“It’s sometimes necessary to seek out new ways to grieve on your own, find new guidance,if the people who are supposed to be supportive simply haven’t learned how”. Listen carefully…just because someone is close to us does not mean that they know what to say or how to be supportive.  It is nothing against them.  Maybe they hurt also in ways they also can’t share with you.  Don’t get mad or upset at all.  There are great doctors and Christian counselors that can help you sort things out.  God gave us doctors for a reason…use them if you need them.  Sometimes a good friend can help, but sometimes a good friend wants to help so badly that they actually say all the wrong things because they do care.

 “You grieve your past, present, and future with that person”. Boy, this is the truth for sure.  I see my son as a baby, a toddler, a teen, and a young man.  I also see him in my mind as a great daddy and husband.  I see all the things he could have become and never had the chance to become.  I see him as I get older being there for me when I need a hand.  I see a lot when I think of my son and others who have gone on.  All the what might have been.  It is okay to think!

Big life events and milestones will forever be bittersweet.  I got to see my son graduate high school and a year early to boot.  I got to see him fall in love and get married and was there when his son was born and the joy on his face.  But the bittersweet is I didn’t get to see him grow in his marriage or raise his son.  I didn’t get to see him see his own son grow up and get married or have his own kids.  I didn’t get to see him become the man that I know he was and would have become as he got older.  We don’t get that part…we can only dream and think about those events.

Grief triggers are everywhere – you will see things that remind you of your loved one all over the place, and it may lead to sudden outbursts of emotion. Wow! This one is tough.  I don’t know most of the people that might read this but I have PTSD and OCD along with anxiety attacks and other things.  There are triggers and there always has been triggers when it comes to my son.  I am so much better than I used to be, but there are always the triggers that I have to watch out for because they will come at times you least expect it.  Just writing this about him and making my son be a part of these posts on grief bring back many memories for which some are tough to write about, but…God has gotten me to the point now that I can share my pain to ease someone else’s pain by sharing.  Getting better is not better unless (to me) I can help ease your pain as well.

“You lose yourself, your identity, meaning, purpose, values, your trust”. Death is a tough.  You won’t know for awhile who you are or what the meaning of anything really is.  If God had not been part of my life no matter who was around it would not have helped.  God is the one who gave the ultimate strength to make me get through the pain and has been the one that has allowed me to share whatever so that maybe you can get through your pain as well.

People will tell you what you should and shouldn’t feel and how you should and shouldn’t grieve.  Ignore them. Can’t say that much better.  As I have said many times they mean well, but they are wrong. No one can tell you how you should feel at the loss of a loved one.

“The grief process is about not only mourning the loss, but getting to know yourself as a different person”. This is very true.  We mourn the loss of our loved one but then, at some point, we have to go one and we go on differently in our life.  We have to pretty much meet our self again and learn who we are because for the time of grieving we can pretty much lose our own identity.

There is no normal when it comes to grieving. Many times, many ways I have said this.  Nothing is normal.  There are different states and we will get to those eventually, but there is no normal to grief.

 “It is normal to feel numb after it happens.  The tears will come. They come in waves”. There are also many who just can’t cry.  They cry inside and they hide their emotions but the pain is just as real.  I have seen far extremes to both degrees. 

Grief can make you feel selfish and entitled, and that’s okay (at least for a while). I don’t know that I fully go along with this one if one is talking about being selfish or entitled because you think you are more deserving to suffer than someone else, but we are entitled to grieve as we feel and that is not being selfish…that is grief.

The practice of sending thank you notes after a funeral is a cruel and unusual tradition. On one hand I understand that people want you to notice and be polite and tell them.  On the other hand I don’t like this personally.  To me this is dragging the pain and making one sit there and write at a time they hurt the most.  As I have said we are all different and maybe this helps you.  If so, do it.  If not…don’t feel guilty.  If people don’t understand this at this time then they never will.

“People love to judge how you are doing.  Watch out for those people”.  All around us all the time people are judging us even when we are in pain.   IGNORE THEM for they don’t know what they truly do.

You can’t compare grief or compare losses, though people will try.  I don’t care if it is the same person we each grieve it is truly impossible to compare your grief because we all grieve differently and for a different time.  We all see the person differently.  If it is different people why compare? Comparing doesn’t change how you feel and could very well make you feel more pain thinking you didn’t grieve properly (compared to someone else’s view)

Any loss you grieve is a valid loss, though people will sometimes make you feel otherwise. I have said many times that grief is not always about death.  Grief can be anything you cared about that was taken from you in some way.  A job, a home, a friend leaving, a divorce, your children leaving home, your dog dies, and so on.  No one can tell you what you can grieve and call you silly because it meant something to you.

“Just because you feel pretty good one day it doesn’t mean you are cured of your grief”. Grief takes time.  You might feel pretty good then wam!  There is a process of steps we will get into eventually regarding grief and all must pretty much go through all to get better.  You might even have a lot of better days and then a set back.  Just know it is okay and there is nothing wrong with you.

There are many days when you will feel totally and completely alone, whether you are or not. I can tell you personally that there were many times everyone was around me and yet I could not have felt more alone.  It is okay and you need to know this.  There is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way.

Grief can make you a stronger person than you were before. Oh no…she didn’t just say that.  Yes, I did because it is true.  We grow and grow from the pain we go through then one day we wake up and realize that we are stronger for it, stronger because God is in our life, because others have helped us along our journey and now we can help others who hurt as well.

Grief counseling doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weak. Quite the opposite.  There are medial grief doctors and they surely can help you when you need it for your physical health, and there are Christian grief counselors who want to help you spiritually.  God gave us both.  Take advantage of whatever and whomever you need to ease your pain.  It doesn’t mean you are weak. 

It is okay to cry sometimes. It is okay to cry whenever you need to but I do suggest that you don’t do it much out in public because people can be cruel and many just don’t understand your pain.  Weather you cry or can’t cry…do what makes you feel better. 

 “Time does NOT heal all wounds”. However, the pain from the wound does get better and easier to deal with.

“Grief re-writes your address book”.Sometimes the people you think will be there for you are not.  People you never expect become your biggest supporters. This one is a mouthful.  We so want to believe that those we considered our best friends and family that would stand by us would…and they let us down, and then we find those that we thought would not care seem to care and help the most.  It is okay…get the help from whoever can help you.

“You don’t get over it, you just get used to it”. Use to it?  That is not how I would really word it.  You don’t get over it for sure.  You always remember those you loved…then you go on.

It is okay to tell people when they are not being helpful. Sometimes as hard as people try they don’t help and can make things worse.  Sometimes we just need to tell them that today you are hurting and they are not helping.  That you don’t want them upset but today you need something else.  If they are really your friends…they still will be. .

You will have to face your emotions eventually – you can avoid them for a while, but they will catch up with you in the end. We all have emotions and they come and go as the wind comes and goes.  Emotions are not us.  We are not our emotions either.  We all have to though at some point and we will know when that point is…deal with how we feel and why we still feel the way we do. This is why getting counseling either with a medical doctor or Christian counselor can be of such a help. 

Nothing you do in the future will change your love for the person who died.  Eventually you will begin to enjoy life again, date again, maybe get married again,  have another child, seek new experiences, or whatever.  None of these thing will diminish your love for the person you lost. The person you loved doesn’t want you hurting and pining away for them.  If they loved you then they would want you to find peace in your life…even with another. 

Asking Inappropriate Questions: It is common for people to blurt out questions that cause distress for survivors.  They may ask for details about the death (“How badly was the car damaged?  How fast was your son driving at the time?”); about money (“How are you going to spend all of that insurance money”); or about the loved one’s possessions (“What are you going to do with his tools?”)

When a friend loses a loved one, our hearts ache for them. We want so much to comfort, soothe and make things better, yet we end up sputtering out the wrong words because we don’t know what to say when someone dies. “We are uncomfortable with silence, crying and sharing someone’s grief, so we try to fix grief instead.” Not only does that approach not work, but choosing the wrong words can cause more pain

You must be strong now.  People need to fully express their grief before they can heal. Telling someone to pull herself together quickly isn’t helpful. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply be there.

I know exactly how you feel. Even if you’ve lost someone dear to you in the past, you can’t know exactly how someone else feels because you’re not in that person’s skin. Besides, trying to make a friend’s loss relatable to something you’ve gone through takes the focus off of their needs and places it on your experience. It might also end up offending.

When you lose someone you love, it’s difficult to agree that his death was part of some grand cosmic plan. “We have to be careful not to make assumptions, as everyone reacts differently according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss and available support,”

It’s time to put this behind you now (or don’t dwell on it). Loss can feel fresh for a while, so telling a grieving person to just get over it can sound cruel. “People think you should be done grieving after a year,” I still miss my son and parents after many, many years.  We have to respect a person’s individual mourning process and also understand that grief can rise up on birthdays and holidays and from other reminders. “Grief isn’t something you get over.”  “It’s something you learn to live with.”

You’re still young. You can find another husband/have another child. A tragic loss-such as of a child or spouse at an early age, or even when you are older-is an unbearable loss, but in wanting to help the mourner see that she can be happy again, we may say inappropriate things.  “I knew a woman who lost her husband, and her mother said, ‘You can get married again,'” Instead of focusing on the future, help that person celebrate the memory of her departed loved one by sharing a story about that person..

I’m sure you did all you could. Although you may feel you should acknowledge the heroic efforts of those who nursed loved ones through illness, refrain from saying this because you don’t know the full details of the relationship. What if the mourner resented the care- giving role, had a strained relationship with the deceased or feels guilty for not always being loving with the sick person?   A better way to express this: “I’ve never seen anyone care for a loved one more completely than you have.”  

AvoidanceOne woman whose child was murdered indicated that people avoided her at the supermarket.  This was so painful to her that she drove to the next town to do her grocery shopping.   As another mother explained after the death of her daughter, “I feel like I have the plague.”  One reason is that bereaved parents are the most stigmatized and avoided because their loss represents the worst fears of others.

Let me know if you need anything (or call me if you need to talk). Mourners are often in an altered state, and they aren’t necessarily sure what they need.  They may not want to pick up the phone and burden others. Most time just calling someone helps, or ask if you can cook a meal, run an errand, pick up the kids, or whatever. If you call and offer to do something…do it.  They have enough on their plate already.

Providing a Religious or Philosophical Perspective. Do not say these things.  They will not make anyone who is grieving feel better.

“God needed him more than you did.”
“She’s a flower in God’s Garden.”
“He’s in a better place now.”

Let me tell you about my own loss which is similar to yours. (There will be a time for you to share, but not right now. Your role is to listen and stay with the person’s loss. When we bring the focus to ourselves, we leave the person in a real way. They want to not feel alone. Grief shared allows the person to feel some relief for a time before they need to gather it all up again and make it into tomorrow).

The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. (That is not how I feel right now).

I know how you feel. (I think this is the worst thing we can say, because we never really know how someone else feels. Tends to make grievers angry).

Everything will be okay. (Believe this for the person and hold on to hope, but tends to feel like you are dismissing someone’s grief).

Let me know if I can do anything for you. ( Just show up and do something if you want to. Grievers often don’t call to ask for help. Encourage them to have a list of chores, errands that need to be done so when people ask, they have something concrete to give them. People do enjoy doing for the grievers and it will give them something to do. Men especially prefer to be action oriented in their grief, so try to give the men something tangible to do).

You’re still young. (You will meet someone else, have more children,,,) Do not say this.

It was God’s will. (Many people already feel angry with God and this won’t help at this time).

Try not to cry. He or she wouldn’t want you to cry. How do you know what someone else would think or want.  How do you know what this person wants or needs either.

It all happened for the best. ( This can feel shockingly painful).

You can have other children. (Children can never, ever be replaced).

It is time to put this behind you. ( This is spoken to many children and teens by adults. There is no time line to grief. We all grieve in our own way and for as long as we need to. Children regrieve at each developmental stage. Grief really never ends, but it changes. The acute pain dissipates in time, yet on holidays, special days, and other times it can feel just as acute as when the loss first occurred. 


You have your whole life ahead of you. (Many grievers don’t even know if they can or want to go on another hour in this pain, so pointing out they have a whole life to live without their loved one is not helpful at all).

At least he or she is out of pain. (Well I am not).

Be strong. (We are telling people not to cry and to hold in their feelings).

Something good will come of this. (It probably will and even if it doesnt, most people would trade the good that came from it for the person they lost in a moment).

You can always remarry. (People are not replaceable).

There are other fish in the sea. (That was not a fish, but a person and I don’t want another one, I want that one).

You can get a new dog, cat, bird.

Don’t cry as it will upset your mother/father/sister/brother. (Creates a sense of guilt and a burden of responsibility).

He or she had a good life or a long life. (Maybe they did, maybe not but it wasn’t long enough for me).

Now you are the man/woman of the house. (Heavy burden to place on a child or teen. This has caused much pain in many children and teens. Often the extent of these damaging words are not realized till years later. Often teen girls or boys not only deal with the loss of a parent, but also have to take on many more responsibilities around the house which often leads to feelings of resentment on top of their raw grief. They now need to deal with secondary losses and don’t need us to tell them they are adults, when they are not).

If you think this is bad, I know a family…… (Please let’s not compare, or minimize other’s losses).

When in the position of wanting to help a friend or loved one in grief, often times our first desire is to try to “fix” the situation, when in all actuality our good intentions can lead to nothing but more grief. Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional caregiver.

So often as well meaning friends, co-workers and loved ones , we don’t know what to say to a person who has just experienced a loss so we say nothing at all. We fear saying the wrong thing. Grievers often feel abandoned by friends in the midst of their loss because of this. Although many of the following statements we may recognize that we have said to people, it is important to understand that these statements are often not helpful. Grief is about a broken heart, yet often we speak to people’s intellect as opposed to their heart. 


Suppose there is someone in your social network who has lost a loved one.  You want to support that person during the grieving process.  
What should you say and do?  Research shows that in many cases, your instincts will be completely wrong.  The mourner is likely to view your support attempts as inappropriate and possibly even harmful.  
There are three reasons why we often say the wrong things:

  • The prospect of interacting with someone who is grieving may elicit feelings of social discomfort.   We are not sure what to say and we do not want to make them feel even worse.
  • Conversing with a grieving person can evoke feelings of helplessness because objectively, there is little we can say or do to help.
  • Such interactions may also enhance feelings of vulnerability, because they make us realize that bad things can happen at any time.

Studies indicate that our negative feelings interfere with our ability to provide effective support.  We try to get through the interaction without increasing our own stress level or that of the bereaved. And because we are uncomfortable, we tend to fall back on remarks that are part of our cultural understanding of how to help others. This results in several kinds of support attempts, which are listed below.  Each is followed by actual examples provided by bereaved individuals:

Claiming to Know How the Bereaved Person Feels: “I know how you feel about the death of your husband.  My husband and I got a divorce last year and it has been very hard.”
“On the same day that my wife died, her cousin told me that she knew how I felt because her dog had died after a long illness.” These kinds of remarks often seem to trivialize or dismiss the mourner’s problems.  Ironically, such comments are more likely to be made by relatives and close friends than by strangers or casual acquaintances. Perhaps those closest to the mourner feel more comfortable offering advice.    In many cases, our feelings of social discomfort, helplessness and vulnerability lead us to avoid contact with bereaved individuals or to behave in ways that they find upsetting.

Conversational Avoidance: “I needed to talk about what happened to my husband, but when I brought it up to my closest friend for the second time, she became visibly annoyed.  ‘You already told me that,’ she said.”   “It is so offensive when a person talks about everything except my dead son.”

Derogating or Blaming the Bereaved or the Deceased: A woman whose child was killed in a motor vehicle crash indicated that she was called an “unfit mother” because she let her young children ride with a seventeen-year-old aunt.
A woman’s husband was killed while riding a motorcycle.  She noted that, “My husband was killed shortly after we moved to Chicago.  Several people suggested that I should not have moved the family to that area.”

 Research has shown that the more distressed the bereaved person appears to be, the more discomfort this will evoke in others, and the more they will avoid, derogate or blame the mourner. This means that those who are most in need of support may be least likely to get it.  

Of course, we do not always respond inappropriately in our interactions with the bereaved.  Some mourners report that their friends have been wonderful.  But research suggests that insensitive responses to the bereaved, such as those described above, are quite common. They are experienced as painful, and they often leave the bereaved feeling that others do not understand what they are going through.  One mother who had lost her only son stated that, “Everywhere we have turned, we have experienced such a lack of compassion that we are nearly insane.”


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