How To Support Someone Grieving: Don’t Say These
Editor’s note: This article was originally written in 2018 for Jesse Was Here. It may have been edited for length and clarity.
This is dedicated to all of the friends and family out there who mean well. We know you mean well—never doubt that for a second. But you need to understand that the person you are dealing with is living an emotional hell. There is no method to our madness in coping with our loss. One thing many of the people close to me asked was what they could do and how they could help.
First of all, there is no right thing to say. There just simply isn’t.
Being in the room with me counts for a whole lot, but as much as you don’t know what to say to us about our loss, we in turn don’t know what to say to you either. We feel empty, sad and lost. Our answer back to you should be “there is nothing you CAN say,” or possibly, “just saying you don’t know what to say is actually saying something, so thank you.”
It’s not that we don’t want you around.
If you are reading this because someone you love lost someone they love and you want to help, print off this list of things NOT to say and give the list to everyone who crosses that person’s path.
1. Don’t tell me to get a pedicure and enjoy a glass of wine to forget my troubles
I can’t forget this “trouble”—I’ve lost someone so dear to me that my heart literally aches. Don’t get me wrong, bring over a TROUGH of wine and keep it coming, but don’t tell me that something so trivial will make me feel better. It will make me feel worse.
2. Don’t tell me your cats are like family and when they die, you grieve
Sorry to be harsh here, folks, but it is NOT the same to lose your cat as it is to lose your child, sibling or spouse. The moment that starts to come out of your mouth, stop yourself. Not everyone’s grief is the same and it’s not a competition. We appreciate you trying to resonate or relate, but it’s not always helpful.
3. I lost my grandmother recently
Again, we know you were close to your grandmother—we all were close to our grandmothers. But comparing your grandmother’s death at age 82 to my son’s death at 13, well, you get the idea here. Full life vs cheated life? No comparison folks. Again, everyone’s grief is different so don’t bring up yours to compare, even if well intentioned.
4. Do you want me to take pictures at the funeral?
A resounding “No thank you.” It’s not your place. And in case you are wondering, posting photos on facebook of a funeral is indecent and thoughtless. Yes, I do have to write this because yes, it has happened.
5. Do not tell me he is in a better place
This was a tough one to write because there are times where we are ready to hear this, just maybe not right away. Don’t be offended when we scream back at you, “Really? Because I think this place is pretty damn great, and I wish him back, thank you very much.” Proceed with caution.
6. Time will heal
I subscribe to this opinion, HOWEVER, we are not really ready to hear it at first. As my friend Bryan said after losing his wife, “I’m tired of hearing time will heal because as far as I can see, time has just made the loss worse.” Again, proceed with caution.
NOTE: If you are someone who has lost a child, you ARE in a place to say things like “time will heal” because you speak from experience. I have found that hearing from those who have already made it through a few years confirms my feelings and helps to feel just a little bit of hope that a day will go by someday without feeling pain.
7. You never really thanked me for all I did for you
Yes, we know you did a lot for us and we appreciate it with all of our hearts. However, as hard as it may be for you to not get an exact “thank you”, you have to realize that the pain we are feeling is excruciating.
We come to work or school with a smile and say we are doing “okay” but make no mistake—we thought about not getting out of bed this morning. We cried all the way to work and cried all the way home. We have moments while scooping cat litter where we have a flashback remembering the moment he/she died, or of saying goodbye or of not being able to say goodbye.
So instead, be happy that you helped your friend/family through the worst days of their life and hope that we don’t have to repay you anytime soon—though we would if its called for.
They are grateful—just not “capable.”
8. “You’re taking this better than I expected”
To be honest, I personally don’t mind this statement. I know you probably are a little curious about how “strong” I am. You have to remember that you are probably seeing me for the first time three months after my son died and while you are on day one, I’m on day 90 where I can spend a few minutes now caring about a few things other than my son’s death.
I am not strong I am surviving.
Sometimes when you say this to a person who just experienced a loss, it’s important to remember what their mind is doing to them.
For me, I constantly thought about sad thoughts and worried what others would think of how I was acting. This may seem like a stupid point but here is an example. For the three months after my son’s death, my profile photo on facebook was always a photo of Jesse. Somehow, some way, it was Jesse. I agonized, truly, over changing it to a photo of myself.
Would people think I was crass, that I had moved on? Was I a bad parent? How will I be judged? GUILT riddled me.
It’s not that you are saying something wrong; it just depends on the headspace of the person you are talking to.
9. “God doesn’t give your more than you can handle”
I keep thinking about this one. Someone said it today on my Facebook wall and while I know they mean well, it’s just not a good thing to say.
You have to understand a loss so close to the heart. We don’t care what God wanted, or even sure a God exists. What we do know is that it hurts 24/7 and it’s like you’ve gone through your whole life without seeing the color blue and now it’s everywhere you look.
Pain is everywhere.
Maybe as time heals (yes, I just said it myself) it will be easier to hear things. And I say again that we appreciate you in our lives helping us get through and we appreciate you not judging how we handle something versus a way you “think” you would handle the same situation.
The truth is I hope you never have to find out how you would handle this situation.