“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss. You will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same. Nor should you want to be the same.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Grief affects us all differently, depending on our coping style and our beliefs. Healing comes gradually, throughout the grief process. The importance of finding a healthy and holistic way to move through the grief process is paramount to navigating a new way of life after the loss. It’s learning to live with the presence of absence.
We will ALL face grief and loss at some point and the support we receive can really make a difference. The same as the lack of support or the words that some say. People often have no idea how to ‘be there’ for someone who is grieving, or feel very uncomfortable being around someone in pain. They also are uncertain with what they should say, or if they can help at all. There are some who compare their own losses to the grieving, or assume that the grieving person would feel, as they did when they went through grief. Some have never faced grief, so struggle to really understand what grief is. Sometimes people have the best intentions but unfortunately the words they use are invalidating or even cause more pain.
What we all need to realise is everyone will grieve differently and we can never understand what another is feeling, even if we’ve been through something similar. We also need to ignore the societal view of grief as it puts expectations around how someone should grieve. How long someone would grieve. And has a whole list of ‘grief’ platitudes that many have adopted and use, which I have to say are really very unhelpful.
Below is a list of things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
- The at leasts- when we start out saying ‘at least’ we are invalidating and minimising the importance of a persons loss. It doesn’t matter if you believe their loss isn’t significant; if you believe there are bigger losses; if you’ve been through something similar. Starting a sentence with ‘at least’ really is you suggesting their grief and loss is insignificant. Some examples:
- At least they lived to old age.
- At least you miscarried and didn’t give birth.
- At least they got to see you grow up.
- At least you’re young enough to marry again.
- At least you have other children. Another parent. Other siblings.
- Religion- unless you know 100% that the grieving person is religious and will take comfort in religious terminology, it really should be avoided. Even if a person is religious, in the early stages of grief hearing something like ‘it was Gods will’, or ‘God needed another angel’- can be upsetting. Many people find no comfort at all from religious words and they can sometimes cause anger in the bereaved.
- Invalidating Comments– there really are some comments that you may think are supportive and helpful, but can actually be hurtful and dismissive of the depth of pain someone is feeling. A couple of examples:
- Time heals all wounds.
- Be thankful they’re not in pain anymore.
- Count your blessings you still have a lot to be grateful for.
- I know exactly how you feel.
- You’ve got to pull yourself together and be strong.
- You’ll feel better soon.
- Give yourself a few weeks/months to grieve, then get on with life.
- Unhelpful advice– again most people want to be supportive and their heart is in the right place, BUT we should never give advice to someone grieving. Their experience is unique to them and they need someone to sit with them; reminisce; listen to them openly and to hear, not to speak. They need people to check in on them as many won’t reach out. They don’t need advice like this:
- telling them about your grief experience instead of listening to them.
- comparing your grief to their’s or anyone else’s.
- telling them they are grieving in the wrong way.
- giving them unsolicited advice about how they can ‘get over’ their grief.
- reasoning with them about how they should or should not feel.
- telling them they should be over their grief.
- suggesting they distract themselves from the pain so they can avoid their grief.
In my experience as a crisis supporter, my training in grief and loss and of course my very own personal experience with grief, there are ways we can support the bereaved that will allow them to feel validated, and highlight that their loss is significant and important. We also need to remember that we have to move through the grieving process- however that looks to each individual person- and that process is not linear and is without a timeframe. Grief isn’t something you can ‘fix’.
So how can we support someone grieving?
- Concentrate your efforts on listening carefully and with compassion. Listen to what they are saying, without advice, without platitudes and without judgement.
- Don’t shy away from the bereaved person because you don’t know what to say or feel uncomfortable. Imagine putting your discomfort before someone’s unbearable pain. Keep in touch even if via phone calls or messages.
- Don’t change the subject if the bereaved is talking about their loss, a they need to talk about it and know that their loss has not been forgotten.
- Remember there will be days in the year that are particularly difficult, for the person to bear. Try and be sensitive to those times.
- If you don’t know what to say, saying something as simple as “I really don’t know what to say, just know I am here for you”, or “I can see how painful this is for you, I’m here to listen”, or “I can’t imagine the pain you are feeling, but know I’m always here”.
Grief and loss will knock on all our doors at some point. For us to heal in a healthy way we must allow ourselves to fully grieve. If we try and bury that grief, it will prolong our pain and potentially cause physical illness. Until we are faced with grief we can never know how we will feel or cope. The most dangerous thing is assuming we understand another’s grief and placing conditions on grief. Workplaces need to do so much better with their grieving staff. Some people need to do so much better in showing authentic compassion and society needs to stop putting conditions around grief, the process and timeframes, as they are never going to be the same for each person.
If there’s one thing you take out of this it’s just sit, listen and hold space. Let the bereaved talk or let them sit in silence, in a safe, compassionate and non-judgemental space. Let them be exactly where they are.
Know that we eventually heal from grief, we don’t get over it, we move through it and find our new normal, and it’s true we are never the same. And that’s okay because loss reminds us of the love in our hearts
” As far as I can see, grief will never truly end. It may become softer over time, more gentle, and some days will feel sharp. But grief will last as long as love does- forever. It’s simply the way our absence of our loved one manifests in our heart. A deep longing, accompanied by the deepest love. Some days, the heavy fog may return, and the next day, it may recede, once again. It’s all ebb and flow, a constant dance of sorrow and joy, pain and sweet love”– Scribbles and Crumbs