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:
- “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 have lost a loved one 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, most often in the form of an attempt at 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 and 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 (boy! it really is hard to avoid the “should”s): as foggy and mixed up and upside down as things may seem, if you pause and think about it, you know 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 the 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 those adult children (and trust me I’m not trying to pick on them!) it may be harder to say thanks and do what you want anyway. It may mean you taking the time to educate the should-er about where you’re at, and what you need (or for that matter, don’t need).
You can express gratitude 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. It’s not everything, and it’s not a quick fix, but it’s a place to start.
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 you should do whatever feels right for you.