Things we Gotta Stop Saying to Grieving People

There have been some tragic losses in our community as of late, and as people try to work through the shock and pain of these losses, many take to social media to share comforting memes and offer each other support.  It is so great to see people extending such compassion to others as they grieve.

The sad part for me as a Grief Recovery Specialist is how often these memes and well-intentioned comments are often propagating myths about loss which can become unhelpful barriers towards folks finding comfort and healing.  The idea that there is 'no recovery or healing possible, so we are destined to spend our lives shattered and hurting' is so tragically misinformed.   But so much of our cultural thinking on loss is based on myths and partial truths. 

I've come to realize that we use these myths because as a culture we have never really done well with death, loss, and grief.  And because culturally we're not really sure what to do with it, we tell ourselves these things in an attempt to make sense of our experience.  Many of these myths only serve to help us avoid the pain of loss, rather than deal with it and complete the relationship with the loss.

Well-meaning People...

Because we don’t do well with painful emotions, and the painful emotions of others, we can find it awkward even to know what to say.   Even the best intentioned of us can put our foot in our mouths and say some pretty hurtful things.  This doesn't mean we are insensitive or thoughtless; it's probably because we have never been taught about grief and probably, the truth be told, we haven't dealt with own losses very well.

Maybe you have heard (or said) things like these:

      • She is in a better place.
      • God needed her more than we did.
      • It's part of Gods will/plan.
      • He is no longer in pain.
      • Time Heals all wounds.
      • You just have to keep busy.
      • Just move on.
      • You never recover from the loss of a loved one, you just get used to the pain.
      • You’re young; you can find a new husband.
      • You have other children.
      • You just gotta give it to Jesus.
      • And the worst!  I know how you feel!

These kinds of remarks, genuinely well-meaning, fall into one of two categories:

1) an appeal to the intellect (which is not where the hurt is).

2) gives advice that is dangerous, or hard (or impossible) to follow.

So how do we communicate support and care in helpful ways? 

 Often we have a hard time making sense of strong emotions, especially painful ones.   The reality is what we really want to do is be comforting and express care.  So starting here, being honest and thoughtful you might try:

  • I have just heard about your loss, and I don’t know what to say
  • I can’t imagine what this is like for you 
  • To listen in silence, being genuinely present
  • if appropriate, offer a hug

What we mean when we talk about healing your heart

Now I am aware that there are some who say you can never recover from a loss, and I understand why they might say that.  But what they seem to mean by recovery seems to be a little out of touch.  They may have implied that recovery means a return to the state before the loss.   But this doesn’t ring true in so many contexts; I am at a loss to understand why they would hold this standard to be true with grief.

When I was a teenager  I had a bicycle accident, and the net result was cutting through blood vessels, two nerves, and three tendons in my wrist.  I underwent 8+ hours on the operating table, endured years of physiotherapy, learning to do the simple, mundane tasks, and endure the pain as nerves regenerated as I learned to use my hand again.

I have recovered.  I have 70% of the feeling in my hand and a large percentage of movement.  This means I have a greater sense of normalcy in my day to day life.  However, I have a constant reminder of that accident in the form of a scar on my wrist.  But it doesn't hurt, and while it limits me in some ways, I have learned to do life well.

And so it is with some of the most tragic losses we experience.

Recovery doesn't mean forgetting

In terms of recovery, the Grief Recovery Method® helps to make it possible for us to have fond memories and not have them turn painful and to have these fond memories take a happy and productive place in your life.

Recovery would also include making it possible for you to begin new relationships while avoiding the temptation of trying to replace the lost relationship or the other ditch... avoiding relationships altogether.

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