Dealing with loss is something that happens to all of us at one point or another, yet no two people do it the same. Different backgrounds, timelines, beliefs…even the coping skills and support system a griever has (or doesn’t have) can determine how they will handle dealing with loss.
But in the days, weeks and months after a loved one has died, a griever may find themselves bombarded with questions, ideas and suggestions, as friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances try to offer support or advice.
So let me start by saying that 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. Can people be misguided in their attempts at help? Absolutely. But are they looking to make things worse or cause more harm? I’d like to think, usually not.
“Should” is a word that a griever may hear more than any other (followed very closely by the word “shouldn’t”).
Why? The people in the lives of a griever often feel helpless. Most of us are no match for these devastating losses and many struggle to find a way to be helpful. Telling a griever what helped them (or their mom, or their neighbor) feel better, and what they therefore “should” do to feel better themselves, may be the only tool the people in the lives of the griever feel they have to offer.
Here’s some examples of the “should”s you may have heard or will hear:
•“You should have cleaned out his stuff by now.”
•“You should keep everything exactly as he left it.”
•“You should move into someplace smaller.”
•“You should stay where you are for at least a few more years.”
•“You should go back to work.”
•“You should go out more.”
•“You should take a vacation.”
Do any of these sound familiar? My experience tells me that those who are dealing with loss will hear at least a few of these “should”s at some point in their grief journey.
Where Do “You Should”s Come From?
Those who have lost a spouse tell me these often come from their adult children. The children are so kind and so worried and have also suffered a great loss, and one of the most common ways for them to try and heal is to turn their care and attention to the remaining parent.
Other times the “should”s come from extended family or friends as they attempt to give comfort or advice. These people may have suffered a loss and want to share what worked for them.
Others may have been more fortunate and don’t really know what a great loss feels like, but they simply don’t know what else to say. They just know they want to help.
And though it goes against the general optimism I mentioned earlier, I would be naive if I didn’t suspect that some people are just bossy know-it-alls who like to tell other people what to do.
Regardless, there is one very important thing you should know: as foggy and mixed up and upside down as things may seem as you’re dealing with loss, when making decisions, if you take some time to pause and think about it, you know exactly what’s best for you right now.
So what do we do with that information? Well, if part of our intention in helping you through grief is to educate you about the process of dealing with loss, then perhaps what’s needed at times like this is for you to do a little educating too.
Ugh, I know. You’re already exhausted and overwhelmed and in an ideal world people would know exactly what to do and say to get you through a time like this. But let’s face it, even I’m not optimistic enough to believe that’s going to happen exactly the way we need it to happen.
So the idea moving forward is two-fold. One, have faith that you know what’s best for you. There will be so many decisions to be made, and in many cases it may be that the person whose opinion you sought or who helped make the decisions is the one who has died. So part of grieving and moving forward is to learn or re-learn how to make decisions for yourself. And it can start with tuning out the “should”s.
In some cases, a simple nod or acknowledgement (“Okay, that’s a good idea”) is enough to get the “should”-er off your back. Other times, especially in the case of adult children, it may be harder to say thanks and do what you want anyway. It may mean instead taking the time to educate them about where you’re at, and what you need (or for that matter, don’t need). It’s also a good time to regroup as a family and remind each other that even though you lost the same person, you did not lose the same relationship. Meaning, your experience and your needs as you’re dealing with loss may be very different from theirs.
You can express gratitude to those trying to help for their care and concern, while gently telling them that right now you just have to do things at your own pace in the way that you see fit, and you would greatly appreciate it if they could understand and honor that need.
So whether the “should” is about moving or going back to work or getting involved in an activity, trust your ability to know what’s right for you. When dealing with loss, you can look for support from those who will understand and continue to find ways to communicate with those who love you and have your best interest at heart.
Because in the end I still say that you should believe that the people offering you grief support are mostly well-intentioned.
And that you should still do whatever you feel is right for you.
It can be really challenging to navigate life after loss, and most will find that making decisions can be especially difficult.
Getting support from those who understand can make a difference and you’ll find it by joining us at www.griefincommon.com.
And if more help is needed when dealing with loss? Grief Coaching offers 1:1 support, and allows an opportunity to explore your individual needs, challenges and concerns. Motivation, encouragement, along with tangible tools for coping may be just what you need to help make decisions, figure out what’s next, and where to go from here.
To learn more about Grief Coaching, you can find it here: GRIEF COACHING.