Put aside the fear of “getting it right” and just say something.
Before I lost my infant daughter I remember acting out of this fear and avoiding those in grief. “What if I say the wrong thing and make it worse?” I said to myself.
What I didn’t know then is that people experiencing grief often feel very isolated, as some family and community members avoid them out of fear.
I have felt this intense loneliness personally and as an MFT Psychotherapist, as expressed through my grieving clients. I know today that the important thing to remember to say to someone in grief is to put aside the fear of “getting it right.” Just say something.
I often tell my friends and clients that I want to comfort them and that I am sorry that they are in pain. I remind them that there is light at the end of the tunnel even if they can’t see it now, and I add that I know that this doesn’t take away the darkness and pain of this moment. I also like to remind them that there may be numbness, an inability to feel much of anything, and that is okay too.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There may be dangerously wrong behaviors we need to stay away from, such as over consuming alcohol and drugs, but we are allowed to feel what we feel.
I like the expression that grief comes in waves. That is, we never know when it is going to hit. Sometimes the tears are swept far away in the ocean of our consciousness. The pain can feel inaccessible for some. And then suddenly we are hit by tsunami months or even years later. This is often the case with traumatic memories as well. Yet the all-pervading darkness that we feel in the wake of grief abates in its own time.
Unfortunately, there is no linear timeline when it comes to suffering. We are all groping in the dark when it comes to finding ways to comfort one another. When I am reaching out to someone in pain, I ask the person who is grieving to “take what you like and leave the rest.”
If we still can’t find the right words to say, sympathy cards help.
It is important that the person in grief knows that they are cared for, even if you have not talked in years or only know each other as acquaintances. I find it comforting to open the cards we received from our community and to read my daughter’s name, Kara.
I don’t have the luxury of speaking the name that I gave to the living breathing girl who didn’t make it past two months old, and so seeing her name helps. Out of the knowledge of the importance that names play, I always mention the person’s name or what they were called specifically such as Pops, Papa, Mom, Daddy, Mama, Gramps, Granny, Grandma, Nana, etc.
There are also definitely things not to say, such as “God doesn’t want you to cry”, or “I know exactly how you feel.” We all have our own thumbprints, and we can’t get inside another’s head. Remember that each person’s experience with grief is different.
The important thing to remember is that as human beings we all need connection. So stumble if you may and reach out even if your voice shakes doing it.
This article is an excerpt from: https://upjourney.com/what-to-say-and-what-not-to-say-to-someone-who-is-grieving