Only 5 you may be thinking? Because if you ask anyone who has recently lost a loved one, what are five things they’ve heard that have been unhelpful, misguided or just downright hurtful you’d find they could probably give you a hundred.
Here are 5 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
If there is one issue that can create division, and even anger, in a room full of widows and widowers, it’s the topic of dating after the loss of a spouse. Of all the subjects in all the groups that I’ve ever facilitated, this may be the most controversial.
For some, just the mention of dating again can cause such a negative and visceral reaction -I’ve seen grievers walk out of presentations where this topic was only one small part of the conversation.
But why the strong reaction? Does it a feel like a sense of betrayal to the deceased? Or of being rushed into something we’re not ready for? Is just the thought of having to start over, to put ourselves out there just too overwhelming or too exhausting? Is it that the endeavor seems worthless as there will simply never EVER be someone as perfect for us as the partner we lost?
And is it fair that a griever has to cope with this tremendous grief while also answering questions from family and friends about whether they plan to date again? Or is it fair that a griever may face judgement from those who think that they aren’t ready to date or believe they shouldn’t?
I once met a woman who used the word “civilians” to describe those who had not experienced the significant loss of a loved one. The griever, she said, has been in the trenches, endured the battle up close…has seen and heard things that can’t be unseen or unheard and often suffers from the post trauma stress that can haunt long after a loss. For me the analogy worked, and it’s one I come back to often when explaining to a bereavement group that there’s certain things only a griever understands.
It’s also what I find brings so many people to seek help outside of their circle of family and friends. Perhaps in the past we would turn to the ones who know us best when struggling with the trials and challenges of life. But everything changes after a significant loss, and especially in the early days, there is no change more evident than in the griever themselves.
Maybe this is why the bereaved seek out others who have not only had a loss, but who have experienced a loss similar to their own. At a time when there is so much uncertainty and so few things that make sense, there is an opportunity for support, validation, and camaraderie when grievers make connections and feel understood.
Everything that connected us to our network before – our shared interests, hobbies, beliefs, or even the bonds of time and relationship – will not seem to matter as much in loss. The griever wants to talk with those who get it. Because while so much of this experience is foreign to the griever, it may seem even stranger still to the “civlian”.
With that in mind, here are 10 things only the griever understands:
Life doesn’t come with a manual, and neither does caring for a loved one who is dying. And yet so many caregivers I’ve met follow such a similar pattern of behavior, it would almost seem that instructions had been written for them to follow.
It goes a little something like this:
- tirelessly and selflessly care for a loved one for months and years on end
- put aside all needs and wants, plans and prospects
- feel tired and overwhelmed, yet grateful at the same time
- immediately replace occasional feelings of resentment, with guilt
- do this for as long as needed, until it is no longer needed
- use newfound abundance of time following loved one’s loss to second guess and question every choice made while caring for loved one; cycle with guilt and regret indefinitely
Sound familiar? It’s human nature of course, to doubt and second guess ourselves when big things happen in our life, and to think maybe we could have done more, or perhaps we should have done something different.
But caregivers seem to do this at a whole different level. Maybe it’s because the choices they make are so big. Perhaps it’s because their end result (the loss of their loved one) is always a bad one.
What I do know is that hindsight is 20/20. Cliched maybe, but true. And the problem is that without realizing it, we take what we know now and apply it to what happened then.
I find that most grievers are surprised by their grief. By the depth of it, the longevity of it, and the inflexibility of it.
On the one hand it seems obvious why we suffer so intensely after someone we love has died. The absence of someone who played such a significant role in our lives is going to leave a void that no one and nothing can fill. As time passes and we expect to be feeling better, we instead face a daily assault of reminders that can trigger harsh and violent waves of grief that may sometimes be just too much to bear.
But why? Why, when we feel we’re working so hard, and getting the support, and being patient and taking the time to grieve – why do we still face this daily hurt that cuts so deep, and why does it continue to happen even as the months and years pass by?
Such a simple idea… slowing down, taking stock of our lives, making the choice to focus on the good we have, and spending less time searching and yearning for what we don’t. Pausing in nature, taking more time with our kids, realizing that we ALREADY have everything we need…to me, the idea of finding gratitude in everyday life was such a simple but game changing goal.
And then suddenly, it was everywhere. In hashtags, and mommy blogs, in commercials, in the stores, suddenly everyone was being told: be thankful for what you have (and what they don’t say: be thankful for what you have, no matter what that is).
Still sounds okay, right? What could be wrong with encouraging this shift in so many people’s way of thinking?
Continue reading “Grief in the Age of Gratitude.”
One of the best things about participating in a grief support group is the relief that comes at the realization that, finally, “I’m not alone”. There are others who can relate and who understand.
Knowing that you’re not “crazy”, and that other people have shared the same thoughts, and acted in similar ways. This safe haven where everyone else nods in agreement as you tell your story–what’s happened, where you are now, and as you wonder, what comes next?
With the right group and the right facilitator a grief support group can be one of the safest and most comfortable places to be.
And while I spend so much of my time encouraging people to participate in a group for just that reason there’s a second part of this that’s all very important to ask – what happens when we leave the cozy space of the group?
There is a term called “Disenfranchised Grief” and it can be used to describe any time a person’s loss is not being validated or substantiated by those closest to them.
This creates a real problem for the griever. Not only do they have to struggle with the loss, but if they feel they have to defend the depths and complexities of their sadness to those around them, they may feel even more isolated, confused and alone.
Though largely unspoken, there are rules in grieving, and judgments being made about how sad we should be and for how long based on a number of factors. They can include the relationship we had with the person who died, their age when they passed, and in what way (sudden vs. expected) they died.
YOU SHOULD READ THIS: (And if you’re dealing with loss, that should be the last time you should listen to anyone telling you what you should do.)
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a very personal thing. As friends and family try to over support or advice, some grievers can feel overwhelmed.
I believe that, in general, people are well-intentioned. Whether that’s actually true or not, I find one of the most peaceful ways to get along in this world is to assume that no one is actually setting out to hurt me or upset me.
Now I understand that this sort of optimism may not come easily after the loss of a loved one, and that’s okay. Worrying about whether or not other people have good intentions for us may not be on our list of concerns.
But these people (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers) are still a big part of our life. And in the early days of a loss, as they are trying to help us through our grief, they’re going to come armed with an endless supply of “should”s.
Here’s some examples of the “should”s you may have heard or will hear: