As saddening as this sounds, people are born, they live and then they die. I think this is scary: that no person will physically live forever and that we don’t know what happens next. The inevitable loss of a loved person flips our world upside down: we don’t know what to do next, we refuse to believe that it happened and we try to distract ourselves from it. Honestly, it depends from person to person. But I don’t think that you want to be that person that says something wrong and inappropriate to a person who’s grieving. So, what should you do? Well, this article will be more of a guide, because, while I can’t blame anyone for this, people try so hard to comfort the grieving person that they mistakenly say or do something that shouldn’t have been said or done. So, here’s what not to do:
1. Don’t bring religion into this
I think things like “They are in a better place now”, “It’s part of God’s plan” or “God never gives us more than we can handle” do not help. Not only aren’t they helpful at all, but they may have the reverse effect, especially if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t share your religious beliefs. I think the key problem with this is that why would God want to cause pain to someone by taking someone else? Why would someone plan this? Why would a better place be somewhere far away from their loved ones? So, if you’re not sure whether the person experiencing the pain shares the same beliefs as you, it’s best to avoid saying those things to them.
2. Don’t tell them to “Be strong!” or “Don’t cry!”
I understand this and while I know it doesn’t come from a bad place, it won’t really have the desired effect. The most important thing is to let the grieving person feel and get every feeling out. They may want to cry. They will feel vulnerable and angry. Nothing will make sense. The fact that they’re crying and feeling a lot of things at the same time does not make them weak. This is how life can be and we should take these things as they are. Bottling up your emotions will be worse in the long run in any case scenario, so let them feel. Let them express their emotions. Let them cry.
3. Don’t say “At least…” things
“What do you mean by that?” you may ask. Well, don’t say “At least they are not suffering anymore”. Again, I know this is not from a bad place, but there’s no bright side to this. A person lost another person. There’s no way you can sugarcoat this, so don’t try to find one. If the thing you wanted to say begins with “At least…”, you should not say it, because it won’t help at all, trust me.
4. Don’t offer to help, just do it!
I know this one also has a “what to do” thing, but I thought it might have been ambiguous otherwise. What I mean is: don’t say things like “Let me know if you need anything.”. While these seem to be the most harmless out of this list, they have a downside and I will tell you why. In the moments of grieving, people are preoccupied, they have a lot going on and they might feel like a burden. Even asking for help is difficult, because nothing makes sense and they don’t know what to do. So, if you want to help, just do it, no questions asked! It will be well received. For example, “Let’s get some coffee” will work a lot better. And, in addition to this, don’t promise something and then never follow up. It will hurt more.
5. Don’t ask “How are you?”
It’s nice to check up on someone who’s grieving, but asking “How are you?” is way too general and won’t get you a full response. Think of it: even when nothing bad is going on, this question generates monosyllabic answers, which won’t really help. Moreover, it’s also something you say on a daily basis, so you’d say this regardless. So, what should you do? Check up on them, but in a different way. For example, try saying something like: “How are you feeling today?”. This is better, because you refer to the things that are currently going on and this question will give you a longer response.
So, you mostly wrote about what not to do. What should I do instead?
There are many things you can do and there’s a huge range of support available. For example, listen to them when they open up to you, check up on them, reach them out, take them out. The basis is, don’t offer yourself to do something, just do it if you want. Be there for them even after the first year. It will always be hard for them, because this is something permanent. They won’t really get over the loss, they just learn to live with it. So, support is always needed. Hug them, listen to them, talk to them. It all depends on the person. I think in these situations, what you do is more important than what you say. So it’s best if you focus on them.
If you’re going through this, don’t hide or bottle up your emotions. Express yourself. Cry, if you feel like it. You are not weak. Your feelings are valid. Talk to a friend or a family member about it. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel and, the most important one, take care of yourself.