Last week, part 1 of Grief appeared in The Sun Times.
Over the years I’ve observed things that people have said helped them with the grieving process, as well as some that didn’t. Here are a few basic Don’ts - -
Don’t –Talk at them. Be with them. They don’t need lectures and they don’t need “fixing”. They usually just need your presence. A quiet hug sends more love than a lecture about how one day things will be brighter. It’s stupefying we still have to be reminded of this, but the death of someone is not the time to be disrespectful. Only say something positive or respectful, or remain silent. Because your words will never be forgotten. “Oh, Bob died? Well, he was a mean old cuss. Never could get along with anybody!” This is a time for respect of a fellow human being – as well as their grieving family - so do what your mama taught you…”if you can’t something nice….” Don’t ask, “What happened? How did it happen? You mean Bob’s truck went over a bridge and he broke his neck!!??”, especially on social media, or share those details on social media. You can bet a loved one of the person who died or was injured will see it and it will hurt them all over again. Don’t ask for, or give, salacious details. Tell a woman who just lost a baby that “It was meant to be”, or “God wanted that baby in Heaven”, or “You can always have another one.” And don’t tell her that it wasn’t a real baby “yet”. To her, it was. No, the addition of another child will not ever replace the lost child. Assume that the loss of a pet, or a home, or a divorce, for example, is “not as bad” as the loss of a spouse when actually these losses are rated very high on a stress index. We attribute, or project, meaning onto the person or thing. The loss of Joe’s dog Max could mean the world to him; Max may have been Joe’s only companion. Assume that Jane’s pain in losing her husband will be like Bill’s pain in losing his wife. No two people grieve exactly alike, or on the same timetable. What is relatively “easy” for one grieving person to weather, might be terribly difficult for another. Tell a grieving person they need to start moving on, or getting over it by now. That is one of the worst things one can say and it never helps. Rather, ask what they need. Don’t fear that if you talk about the deceased person or encourage the griever to talk about them, it will make things worse or emotions will start going all over the place. Rather, it is usually healing. What isn’t healing and can make grief worse is when silence is encouraged or “tiptoeing on eggshells”. “Ever since Bob died, all my friends tiptoe around me and go quiet when I walk in the room. They rarely call anymore. I want them to know it’s okay to talk about their feelings about Bob, too.” Say something like, “I miss Bob. Boy, could he make a good cheeseburger after a golf game! Didn’t we have some fun times!” Jane might need to know that someone, anyone, still remembers Bob and misses him or liked or respected him. Don’t tiptoe around the elephant in the living room. Voice an opinion to the grieving person about the manner of handling the remains. “Jane, did Bob ever actually TELL you he wanted to be cremated?”, or, “Hm….you mean one day you aren’t going to be buried next to Helen?” Unless you’ve actually seen or heard the wishes of the deceased person yourself, you don’t know and it’s never someone else’s place to voice an opinion on the matter, regardless. My mother, as you may have become familiar with my nursing home journey in past editions (and I thank you for the kind emails and texts!), passed away this week. She was cremated and her ashes will be strewn at sea. I have already had to tell a couple of intrusive people that opinions on the matter are not open for discussion. Be mindful of privacy boundaries of families. Don’t say, “Call me”. They usually won’t. You call them. “Jane, I was thinking of you today. Can I bring you anything or would you like to go have a coffee this afternoon?” Better yet, drop off a pretty plant or a tray of nibbles or a heartfelt card.
If I can help, I’m at 501.238.2557, MaryAnne@sincerawellness.net, and my website is www.sincerawellness.net.