Harsh words spoken from the lips of children can provide a bit of laughter. Harsh words spoken from the lips of adults sting. Here are some more examples of what not to say to those that are grieving, this time as taken from adults:
#1. "Don't worry. In time you will get another husband, child, friend, etc."
Although this may be true someday, it is not at all something that one wants to hear when grieving. I am now remarried but at the time I believed that I would never marry again. Saying that I would remarry made me feel as though people didn't realize how special my husband was. I lost someone who could not be replaced. Think about it, you may have another child or spouse or friend, but each and every person is unique. You can NEVER replace an individual and saying that you can devalues the one who was lost.
#2. "There is a reason for this. You will see the purpose (or God's plan)."
This is a saying that is commonly said within many religious circles and it can offend people whether they believe in God or not. When my husband died I struggled think of any grand purpose that would justify his death and I couldn't come up with one. Having someone tell me about a grand purpose while they turned and walked home to their spouse lit a angry fire deep within.
#3. "What can I do to help?"
This is perhaps the most common mistake. In the midst of grief I was so depressed that I couldn't identify any need. Tasks like shopping for groceries or mowing my lawn all seemed so trivial. I didn't eat, drink, or even sleep much. As cared so little about myself at the time, I certainly couldn't identify any need I had and being asked to identify ways in which someone could help me simply added another burden. Looking back, the friends and family who brought food, mowed my law and did grocery shopping without even asking were angels to me. They saw a need and acted on it.
#4. "You will grow so much as a person because of this."
I can certainly say that I am arguably a better person after going through grief. However, hearing this from others made me feel as though they believe he needed to die in order for me to be a better person. It also made me feel belittled as if I required such a deep level of growth that it took a major tragedy. Besides, your personal growth seems irrelevant at a time when you feel as though you might die from the level of misery you are in.
When looking at these examples of what not to say in grief, we are naturally led to the obvious question of what then to say. I have been asked for such numerous times and although I have personally swum in the depths of despair, I hesitate greatly to answer because each person and situation is unique. It is far too complicated for trite sayings. Therefore, I find it easier to focus more on what to DO.
My first word of advice is to learn to sit in silence and LISTEN. In fact, do not say anything. I realize that this is very hard to do as we are a culture of quick fixes, but it will help more than anything you could ever say. There are no words for grief and those who are grieving need to know that you are there for them. They need the physical presence of a friend and the support of a gentle hug. The best thing that anyone said to me at my husband's funeral was, "I am so sorry Sarah. There are no words". It was said with tears in her eyes as she embraced me. We stood together in that silence and it allowed for me to cry and release the pain that had been built up. I needed that more than any word spoken from her lips and she knew it.
The second word of advice is to act in kindness when the opportunity presents itself. Although I wasn't able to identify any needs I had during my darkest hours, I had friends and family who watched and showed up to act when it was most needed. Look for the times in which you can help and then do so. No matter how simple it may seem.
Finally, commit to being a friend in the coming months and years when others have long forgotten about the pain. We are a culture that moves quickly and yet grief does not.
Listen. Show up when needed. Be thoughtful and kind.