Grief: The Dos and Don’ts for Family, Friends, and Clergy

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The Myths About Grief

  • Don’t feel bad...”  When we tell our friends and loved ones not to “feel bad” we can be setting them up for substance abuse.  God created us all with emotions, “feeling bad” is not a bad thing; it is something we were created to do.  Telling your friend or loved one, “don’t feel bad,” is like saying to them, “don’t be human.”
  • Replace the loss…” When our four-year old’s pet dog passes, we often use “don’t feel bad” and “replace the loss” together… “Don’t feel bad, we will go Saturday and get a new puppy…”  This, however, does not help the grieving person.  They need to experience the loss, grieve the loss, and acknowledge every emotion they are feeling.  Again, replacing a loss, doesn’t stop the grief process, it, in fact, sends the message that the person or thing that is being grieved is replaceable. This is false, and we only say it because we want our family and friends to “feel good.”  Sometimes, though, “feeling good” isn’t helpful at all.
  • Grieve Alone…” “Laugh and the whole world will laugh with you; cry and you cry alone.” This isn’t a truth, but unfortunately, we have allowed society to almost make it one.  No one should ever have to grieve alone.  If you don’t know what to say to someone, that is OK…maybe they just need a good listener.  Cry with them.  Crying is a cleansing and can be very helpful to the grieving person.  The grieving person needs to be allowed to feel their sadness, their loss, and every emotion at once.  Grief is a process, you will go through it one way or another.  You may be able to repress, but it will show back up, so I encourage you to walk through the process now rather than later.  Grief is NORMAL and you are NOT going crazy!
  • Grief just takes time…” No statement can be further from the truth! Time doesn’t heal anything!  Don’t believe me?  Well, my husband had a flat tire on his truck.  There was a big screw stuck in the tire.  He could have pulled up a chair and waited on time to re-inflate his tire, but we all know that would not happen!  The same can be said for grief!  The person experiencing grief has to take action, feel their emotions, and walk through the process.
  • Be strong” or “Be strong for…” This is the bookend for “don’t feel bad.”  Simply put, you can be strong or you can be human!  You can’t feel for the grieving person and they cannot “be strong” for anyone else.  If I take an ibuprofen for a headache, is going to help my head or yours?

It is natural to want to help your family or friend through the grief process, just remember, for their sakes, that feeling bad is helpful and valuable to them.

What Not to Say to Grieving People

Do not Statistics show that 87% of what a grieving person hears is NOT helpful!  Let’s take a look at some things you never want to say to someone grieving, so your words can be beneficial to them!

  • Avoid intellect and advice when talking to grievers.  “Don’t feel bad; they’re in a better place.”  This does NOT make the person grieving “feel better.”  It is often rejected, goes in one ear and out of the other.  Instead, create a safe space for them to grieve.  Assure them what they feel is NORMAL, and that you are there to listen if they need to talk.
  • I know how you feel“~ NEVER! NEVER! Never say, “I know how you feel.”  The fact is you do NOT know how they feel!  Each person and each relationship is different.  You may have had a similar experience, but because each individual is uniquely created you cannot know how someone feels.
  • At least he/she is in a better place…”  This sounds “spiritual” and many church people say this…but honestly IT DOES NOT HELP!  While my loved one may very well be in a better place or not be suffering, I WANT THEM HERE WITH ME!  Sally Field exhibits this very well in Steel Magnolias during the funeral scene for her daughter.  She shows the reaction taking place inside of the surviving parent, brother, sister, and friend…the reaction that usually takes place internally because often the grieving person does not show you their true reaction to this statement!  This statement implies, “Don’t feel bad,” and it is normal to “feel bad” when we lose someone.
  • You have to be strong for…” Again, this statement strips them of their humanness, and doesn’t allow them to feel their pain.  It is NOT beneficial to the one grieving at all!
  • Be grateful for the time you had with him/her…” Gratitude is not the issue at hand, grief is.  The one grieving is very thankful/grateful for the time they had with their loved one…they miss their loved one and wish they had more time! Therefore, this statement is not helpful to the one walking through the grieving process.

Do Say

  • I can’t imagine what you are going through.” This is a truthful statement! You truly have no idea what this person is feeling, so be honest with them.  They will greatly appreciate your honesty over “feel good” words which do nothing to make them feel better.
  • I don’t know what to say.” Again, this is an honest statement and no words are better than ones denying them the humanness to feel their pain.
  • I’m sorry.” This one can be tricky. If you knew the deceased person it can be helpful, if you did not know the deceased it can be detrimental because the one grieving may say, “You didn’t know them, so why are you sorry?”

Telling the truth about yourself without making the conversation about you is the best way to help the one grieving.  They can build a new trust with you that may allow them to talk and be a great therapy for them.

This is a very short version of how to best help your family or friend who is experiencing grief, but I pray you find it helpful in helping your loved ones.

Blessings,

Regina

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