Do you know someone who is grieving?
Do you want to help them but have no clue what to say to ease their heartache?
In the grief recovery program that I offer, one of the things we address at the beginning of the course is how ill-equipped we are to help others with loss. Has anyone ever told you, “I know how you feel?” Yep, me too. Let me take a guess: it didn’t help you either.
When you have experienced a loss such as a divorce, a death, a loss of job, or any other major event and someone says, “I know how you feel,” it does nothing to ease the person who is hurting. The reason is that each of our relationships is unique. There can never be any exceptions to this because not one person can know how you feel or what your relationship entails.
If you recently lost your father and I have already lost my father, I have no right to tell you, “I know how you feel.” A similar loss is precisely that: a similar loss. We both have unique relationships with our fathers; what we share is a similar loss, not similar feelings.
Let’s say, for example, that my father was self-absorbed, childish, and abandoned me when I was nine years old, and your father was supportive, loving, and a caretaker. Would you “know how I feel?”
All relationships are unique, so we must let people feel their feelings.
We go on to teach in grief recovery how so many of us have grown up fearing feelings. Can you remember your childhood and when you were told to keep your feelings to yourself?
Perhaps you heard, “Big boys and girls don’t cry.” I have heard a few parents say when I was growing up, “Stop that crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Likely, these parents are not insensitive assholes; they simply pass on what they have learned as children. We have grown up in a society that has little understanding of grief.
Here are a few more examples that you may have heard growing up:
“Get a grip on yourself.”
“You can’t fall apart.”
“Cry baby, cry baby.”
“Pull up your big girl pants.”
“Suck it up.”
Emotions and pain make people uncomfortable. How often have you tried to express your feelings to someone, and they quickly changed the subject? I can recall three situations before I have even had a chance to process the question. This happens all the time; emotions and grief make people uncomfortable.
Grief recovery also teaches us about the intellectual responses we often hear and say to someone grieving.
“Be thankful you have another daughter.”
“Your father is in a better place.”
“We all die someday.”
“He led a very full life.”
“God only gives us what we can handle.”
“Just be grateful he lived as long as he did.”
It’s true; we have all heard them, and some of us have even said them to the grieving. Intellectual comments do not heal a broken heart. When we use intellectual comments, although they may be true, they are unhelpful. We have simply been taught wrongly. With the proper knowledge and understanding, we can do better to help grieving people.
Grief is the normal and natural response to loss, so there is nothing wrong with a person who is grieving. Also, grieving people are not broken, so they do not need you to fix them. A grieving person must be listened to without analysis, criticism, or judgment.
So, what are some things that you could do or say to someone who is grieving?
Be a shoulder.
Be a heart with ears.
Ask what happened.
Do not analyze, judge, or criticize.
If you have experienced a mutual loss, share your feelings about your loss.
Is there anything you wish to talk about?
Do you have things you wish you could have said or done differently?
Say: “I can’t imagine how you feel.” “I don’t know what to say,” “Your feelings are normal,” and ” Take all the time you need.”
Please check out my article on Grief & Recovery.
We do not have to walk alone in our grief. If you want to learn more about grief recovery, please reach out to me.