In last week’s post I talked about what you can do when someone you know and love is in grief or going through a loss. While I did said it is better to say something than nothing at all, there are a few things that are not helpful to say to anyone dealing with difficult emotions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list nor will all of these things offend everyone, but as a general rule avoid saying the following:
1. “I know how you feel.” Let’s admit it- no you don’t. Even if you have been through a similar situation the feelings that are alive for them may be very different than what you felt. “How are you feeling?” is a much kinder and open-ended thing to say. This allows the grieving person to express themselves as well but be prepared to hear the real answer and not a sugar-coated version. Grief is raw.
2. “Are you still thinking about that?” or “You really should be over that by now.” No explanation needed here I hope.
3. “It’s time to get on with your life.” This implies that somehow the grief is not a part of life.
4. “It could have been worse.” This totally invalidates how a person is feeling.
5. “It was God’s will.” I don’t care if you really believe it to be true of not, it is not helpful in the immediate place of grief. This is a conclusion that needs to be reached by the person grieving and not told from the outside.
6. “You shouldn’t say that.” Grieving people will say and do all sorts or extreme things when they are feeling low. It is important to be able to express openly and honestly all the doubts, anger, fears and sadness that come with the grieving process.
7. “When are you going to be normal again?” First of all, what is normal? If you can honestly answer that question, then you will probably realize that there is no such thing. We are constantly changing and growing. Sometimes normal is lighthearted, angry, sad, fun, depressing. If what you want to know is “when will you be like the person you were before?” the honest answer is probably never. While things will go back to a more moderate place eventually, the bereaved have to find a “new normal.”
8. “You have so much to be thankful for.” Again, denies how a person is feeling in that moment.
9. “You should just __________” (fill in the blank: get married again, have another child, get a new house.) Replacing the person or thing lost will never make the grief go away. Grief needs to be allowed in order for real healing to happen.
10. “If you would have ________ this never would have happened.” Blame is not helpful anywhere.
Timing and context are very important in these situations. If you are questioning whether you want to say a certain thing, take a moment and ask yourself “how would I feel if I were in their shoes and someone told me that?” In the end use Love as your guide.
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