What to Say and What Not to Say
BY Stephen Moeller, Floral Haven's certified Grief Recovery Specialist
Thursday, November 19, 2009
11/30/09 at 3:23 PM
Knowing what to say to someone who is grieving can be difficult. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to sit and listen to the griever and give them a hug! The most important thing is to simply be there for them. Remember, you are there to listen and not analyze, judge or criticize what they have to say. Their feelings are all that matters. You are there to support them!
Things to say
Most grievers want to talk about “what happened,” while most no-grievers think that this will be a subject that will be too emotional for them to talk about. If you don’t know all the details, ask them to tell you.
If the death was sudden and unexpected, ask them how they found out about it. Many people have a great deal of emotion attached to this and need to express it.
Invite them to tell you how they are feeling. You can share how you felt going through a loss experience, but that you know everyone is different.
Let them know that it is normal and natural to discover things that they wished they had done and discussed with that person before they died. Ask them if they have thought of any such things and invite them to share those things.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. Chances are, whatever the griever is feeling is normal. Sometimes, they need to be reassured that there is nothing wrong with the pain that they are feeling.
Things not to say
Never say “I know how your feel.” (You may have had a similar loss, but you can only say that you know how you felt.)
Avoid such common expressions as
-- Be grateful you had them so long
-- You need to be strong
-- Keep busy
-- They had a full life
While many of these things might feel right to say, because you have heard them before, they are generally not very helpful and sometimes lead to emotional pain. Some of them might seem like honest and logical comments, but logic and grief do not go together. Grief is emotional and is about broken hearts. Logical comments do not heal emotional wounds.
Avoid saying that “grief just takes time.” Many grievers are told that it takes a certain amount of time to feel better and are surprised that little changes after that amount of time has passed. Time may dull the pain, simply because we become used to it, but it does not solve the emotional problems.
Do not tell a griever to “call if they need anything.” Often, they have no idea what they might need and will be afraid to call if they think of anything. Instead, offer to do specific things for them, like provide a meal or offer child care. This is something that speaks to their needs, rather than making them think of a need.
Never suggest that the griever “get rid of the things” that remind them of the person they lost or volunteer to do this job for them. People will often follow this advice immediately after a loss and regret it later. When they are ready to let go of things, they will tell you and you can help them.
What to do and not to do
Many times we are unsure of how to help grieving family and friends. Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently, based on thro own personal relation with the person who died. Many times people in the same family will respond differently to a loss. This does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong, it simply means that they are different. The best way to support grievers is to understand this and not judge them for they way they are grieving.
What to do
Offer to do something specific. If you way “call me if you need anything,” a griever will rarely call. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration, so they have trouble of thinking of what they need. Offer to pick up people at the airport, mow the lawn, watch young children or bring a meal at a certain time. Offering to do something specific makes it easier to for them to decide if this is something that would help.
Volunteer to watch their house during the funeral or memorial service. Some thieves read obituaries and use the time that people are away to break in and rob a home. This is the last thing the family needs to think about.
Visit with them in the weeks following the service. Families receive many callers during the time around the death, but soon friends return to their normal lives and forget to call again. Four to six weeks after a death, when people are rarely calling, is a great time to call or invite them to a meal.
Be willing to listen when they want to retell the story of their loss. Many grievers need to keep retelling the story to make it “real” to them. Retelling the story and inviting them to share their memories helps them express their feelings, rather than bottling them up inside.
After the death and the service, continue to invite the survivors to the same function you might have included them in before. Friends will often worry that it is too soon to invite a griever to a party or gathering. This can leave the griever feeling that they are left out or forgotten. They can decide if they are ready to attend.
If you have sent cards for special events in the past, such as birthdays and anniversaries, continue to do so with a special note recognizing that while this person may be gone, you still remember them. Grievers do not stop remembering these dates just because someone died. Your thoughtfulness in remembering this date as well will be appreciated.
Most of all, be patient with them. Grievers often have a reduced sense of concentration and have trouble remembering things. This is normal and does not mean that something is wrong with them or that they require medical treatment and medication. While medication may help on some levels, it is only treating their response to the loss and not their underlying grief.
What not to do
Don’t volunteer to come over shortly after the death and offer to help them “get rid” of clothing or personal possessions, with the thought it will make it easier on them. People will often discard or give away things immediately after a death and regret it later. Instead, let them know that you will be happy to be there for them when the time comes that they might wish help in sorting though things. When you do this, suggest that they separate things into three piles; the things they know they want to keep, the things the are ready to give away and the things about which they are not sure. This last “pile” can be put aside for now and then sorted through again in the same way at a later date. After repeating this process several times, they will be sure that they saved what is important.
Don’t tell them how they should be feeling and why they shouldn’t feel sad. Grievers need to be listened to and not offered instruction. Telling them why they shouldn’t feel sad and why they should be grateful often encourages them to hide and cover-up their feelings. Greif is a normal and natural response to loss.
Don’t be afraid to bring up the name of the person who died in conversation. Friends and family members often are afraid that if they mention the name of the person who died, it will create an emotional moment for the griever. Grievers often feel that others have forgotten that person because they never talk about them. This can be more painful in the long run than the possible emotional moment the might occur in talking about them.
Do not rush to encourage them to “get on with life.” Recognize that this death has caused a great change in their life to which they need to adjust. The last thing most widows and widowers are thinking about after the death is starting to date again. Advising a family that has just lost an infant that they “can have another one” leaves the parents thinking that you believe children are replaceable. If their grief continues for an extended period, look for recovery and support groups in the community that might be helpful to them and pass on the information. Many grieving people not only do not know where to start in looking for support, but also don’t have the energy to do so.
This information was provided by Floral Haven. To talk to Stephen Moeller, Floral Haven's certified Grief Recovery Specialist, call him at (918) 459-1597 or e-mail at email@example.com. You can learn more about grief by visiting www.fhaven.com or the Grief Recovery Institute at www.grief.net.
Most grievers want to talk about “what happened,” while most no-grievers think that this will be a subject that will be too emotional for them to talk about.