Grief. It’s such a strange emotion. I think we all believe we have an idea of how it must feel from portrayals in movies and books, but in reality I don’t think we can understand the complexities of grief until we’ve been through it ourselves.
I have been constantly surprised this year about how grief has made me feel. I’ve experienced emotions that have been totally new and alien to me, and have been frustrated by how up and down this journey has been.
Because of how difficult it can be to understand the process of grief, I have also been privy to a lot of comments that have left me reeling. A little while ago, hearing these things left me feeling frustrated, upset and downright lonely, but now I can understand that despite not always seeming like it, they often came from a place of love.
It’s human nature to want to help when we see our friends and family hurting, and I can see now that the words that may have felt like a dagger to me when I was at my most heartbroken, were often meant to be a source of comfort.
So as someone who has not only been through the mill with grief in the last year, but has seen my entire family go through it too, I thought I’d share 5 things not to say to someone who is grieving…
What not to say to someone who is grieving
1) Time is a great healer
I think this has been my number 1 most frustrating thing to hear this year and I blame movies entirely for this being such a gigantic grief cliche. It’s the least comforting thing you can say to someone who is grieving for so many reasons. Firstly, when you have lost someone who is such a special part of your life, there is no amount of time that can make the loss easier. If anything, it only gets harder with time, as you miss them more and are constantly wondering “what would they be like now?” or “how would life be different if they were still here?”. You start to make new memories without them and feel constantly guilty about it. Also, quite often when that person is someone you love very much, you almost don’t want to feel better because while the grief is painful, it helps you stay connected to them.
2) You’ll get through this, you’re so strong
I know I’ve definitely been guilty of saying this to people in the past before I had experienced grief myself, and I can understand that it is supposed to be encouraging and hopeful, but when you already feel so vulnerable, it can be a huge pressure. Grief can make you feel like someone has ripped a layer of your skin off and then ran you over, and the added weight of having to appear strong or like you’re holding it together can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world. Instead, just let the person know that you love them, and that you are there for them and that they can call or text anytime they need anything.
3) Just think of all the happy memories you’ve made
This is another phrase that I can understand comes from a good place, but can be oh so painful to hear when you’re the person who is grieving. It almost feels like your emotions are being undermined in some way – that you don’t deserve to feel so upset because you were lucky enough to have so many happy memories together. Also, it’s a fairly stupid thing to say because from the second that person has passed, ALL you can think about is them and the things they said or did as you try to burn those memories onto your brain. I’ve felt so scared that I would in some way forget Blossom that I still make myself replay every conversation we ever had everyday for fear of forgetting them.
4) Everything happens for a reason
I kind of used to believe in the whole “the universe has a plan and everything happens for a reason” thing before last summer, but after losing one of the youngest members of our family in such a tragic way, I absolutely cannot buy into this anymore. There is not a single valid reason that could make the pain of our loss feel in any way justified, so please, please, please don’t patronise people by saying that “everything happens for a reason” or that “they’re in a better place now”. In fact, if you do say these things, the person who is grieving is well within their right to thump you.
5) I thought you were over the worst of it now
This is one I’ve heard quite a few times recently, and every time someone has said it to me I’ve felt myself physically flinch. There is no time limit on grief – in fact, I honestly feel like the first few months you cope on adrenaline alone, and it’s only when you’ve got a big chunk of time between you and the event that you can start to really process your feelings. Also, the path of grief is not a linear one – just because you have seen someone smiling and having a great time doesn’t automatically mean that they are “feeling better”. It’s up and down, and as I’m learning, it’s absolutely possible to have a fun time with your friends or family while still also feeling completely devastated.
What should you say to someone who is grieving?
So if that’s what not to say, then what should you say to someone who is grieving? Keep it simple – “I’m so sorry that this shitty thing has happened to you and I love you so very much” is enough.
Also, actions speak louder than words. The acts of kindness I remember from this past year aren’t thing that people have said, it’s the things that people have done.
The friend who sent me a care box to work complete with everything she could think of that would make me feel a little better and a card letting me know she was thinking about me. The people who turned up at my family’s door with home cooked meals or magazines and sweets for the kids. The friend who sent me flowers on New Years Eve because she wanted to get 2017 off to a great start after a crappy 2016.
Those are the things I will remember forever.