We have all done it, even I. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “They’re in a better place.” “They won’t suffer any longer.” “At least you got time to say goodbye.” These things we say in the hope it will bring some small ounce of comfort to insurmountable grief. Unfortunately, all good intentions aside, most times these catch phrases to insta-heal annoy the grieving more than relieve.
Most people in grief would NEVER ask someone to step into their shoes. It is a life we are to face, and asking someone else to bear this burden seems unfair to most of us. But today I will make an exception: What do you say to someone who is grieving and experienced profound loss?
Disclaimer: This is coming from a Generation Y viewpoint.
Death sucks. Yes, when not in a near-death or watching someone die scenario, you can think about what it may be like to be in eternity with your Heavenly father, or with a numerous amount of virgins if you’re Buddhist (forgive me for my ill knowledge of other religions), as a butterfly in the afterlife, or whatever you may believe. Mostly calm, grand images of life after death.
But when you are watching someone die, have faced tragedy, have lost someone dear to you, being told they’re in a “better place” is not the thought process the grieving are facing. We’re no longer thinking calm grand images of the afterlife, we are thinking about all the things we will no longer get to share with them in this life. Future for us has stopped! We’re not thinking about how our loved ones are somewhere beautiful, all we can focus on is that they are not here with us, where they belong.
In most cases, as my own, faith took a huge bullet when I lost Kevin. I had prayed for a miracle, and did not believe we were given that. I felt betrayed, lost, and any hope or faith in God diminished into the void of grief. Comfort of faith was nothing to me, and I still have trouble embracing faith.
Whether you are given a day, a month, a year, or never any notice, getting time to say Goodbye does not annul the fact that the other person is gone. The words “goodbye” do not grant us some amazing closure to their death. It is only the beginning of a downward spiral of grief that we will deal with for the rest of our lives. Yes, the rest of our lives (for questions on this, see previous post regarding what “good” means to me now!).
Suffering? No, we don’t want to see our loved ones suffer. But we also don’t want to give up caring for them, to at least be with them in some manner. To hold their hand and provide earthly comfort. While we are relieved they are no longer in pain, a new pain is now in our lives, and that pain is great and destructive.
So now that you know what you should not say (see above), let’s focus on what to say. Sometimes, nothing is best. Many people are not equipped with the proper words to say anything to someone who is actively grieving an intimate loss. I’m a huggy person-if someone would just shut their trap, and hug me, instead of trying to comfrot me with ill fitting words, it would be most appreciated.
Most times, we just want to fill the awkwardness if dealing with a grieving person with something-and that something is usually words. Words that the grieving may accept, and just possibly appreciate (again, from a Generation Y viewpoint):
“I cannot imagine, and I don’t want to”
Note that nothing is profound, most phrases are a bit crass, and all include a layer of disgust, distaste, and all in all suckiness of situation. Grief sucks. No way around it-let’s not sugar coat the reality of what the grieving must face each and every day of their lives whether 1 hour out, or 10 years out. It is still there, underlying, in some form. It becomes a part of our lives-intertwined so amazingly that sometimes we forget it’s there-but it always comes out again in some form.
Do not attempt to solve this problem, make light of it, try to find the hope in it-treat it just as it is. Horrifying, depressing, sad, and indescribable.
So if you ever say to me “That sucks” about Kevin’s passing, I’ll probably smile and say “Yes, that it does.”
Brenda- Well said again!
And … this virtual hugging SUCKS!
So true! My sister died in a car accident in 2001. People said all the usual things and I just wanted to say “shut up!” Most people just don’t understand (which is actually a good thing). And then I found it was the same when I had cancer. Everyone would say “you’ll be fine”, etc. But I was terrified I wouldn’t be and sometimes just wanted people to listen to me be scared!
Anyway, good post!
I personally was never angry when people said those things to me. I know that it’s human nature to want to help, and I also know that there are no words that can ease someone’s grief after losing a loved one. The people I appreciated the most, though, were the ones who treated me like a human and not like an empty eggshell that would break if you said the wrong thing. The only time I really got angry with people was when they made a spectacle of my situation. I remember I had one teacher who waited until the day I got back to class to announce to everyone that my dad had died and that was just the most TERRIBLE thing anyone could ever imagine happening, and everyone should feel sorry for me. And I was just mortified. Because I did not need someone rubbing my nose in the fact that my dad. Was dead. And how horrible was that! I can’t believe I’m still so angry about that, 18 years later. Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone experiences grief differently, and what might be the right thing to say or not say to one person may not be the right thing to say or not say to someone else. I loved the girl who never said, “I’m sorry,” but handed me a teddy bear, gave it some silly name, and asked me how I thought the weather was on Venus. You appreciate the people who can say, “That sucks.” And that is just part of the beauty of what makes each of us special and unique and human. Hugs to you, Brenda. Grief does suck.