Grief can happen when you least expect it.
I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.” – A Grief Observed
It might be a teenager who’s had his/her heart broken, it might be a friend or family member diagnosed with a life threatening illness, someone who has lost their beloved pet, someone going through a divorce – or who is grieving following the death of a loved one.
The truth is simple. We all feel uncomfortable when we have to make that phone call or sit and come face-to-face with someone who is grieving a loss.
People can often be well intention but not know the right thing to say. Often they tell the grieving person how sad they are. This can lead to the grieving person supporting them in their grief rather than the other way around. We may say something that we think is comforting but end up only upsets the grieving person more.
Five of the things that people say often that are not constructive are:
- “Time will heal, you’ve got to give it time.”
- “I know how you feel, I lost some one dear to me recently.”
- “At least she’s is not suffering anymore.”
- “You’ve got to stay positive, she wouldn’t want you to be thinking like that.”
- “She had a good innings.”
These are the clichés that people often use (or variations) when they try to comfort a grieving person. We’ve probably all told a friend who has recently split from a relationship “there are plenty more fish in the sea”? From where they sit the ocean is empty because they only wanted one fish.
People need to fully express their grief before they can heal. Telling someone to pull themselves together quickly isn’t helpful. To be supportive of someone grieving, make it about them and their experience and not about you or what you’ve experienced in the past.
At that moment in time the grieving person believes no one else could possibly understand their pain.
So what can you do?
Enter their world. Listen and be there for them. Silence doesn’t have to be awkward. It’s ok to be empathetic. You can say things like:
- “You must miss her terribly.”
- “Your world has been turned upside down.”
- “You must be scared.”
- “It sounds like you have so many things to adjust to.”
- “I’m so sorry about the news. I know this is difficult for you and I am here if you need me.”
Hopefully the next time you are in this situation you will be able to offer the words of comfort that you had hoped to.