As someone who recently went through the devastating loss of my father, I can tell you that I received an unbelievable outpouring of support.
Normally, this would be something to be thankful for, but sometimes people just don’t know how to express their condolences, and it can make the grieving process harder.
Even though I knew my father didn’t have a lot of time left, the massive sting didn’t hurt any less. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think straight. I just wanted to collapse into my bed and never get out of it.
From personal experience, I can tell you that I’m eight months into the loss and I still haven’t fully processed the whole thing. Every time I try, I push the feelings down deep into my toes because I’m just not ready to feel those emotions again.
I see other people who have had similar losses (that of a parent, or close relative) and they seem to be doing well (or that could just be the social media fantasy they are showing) and I have to remind myself that we all grieve in our own ways.
One thing to always keep in mind, and I’ll probably repeat this several times: Everyone grieves differently! AND THAT’S OK!
The next time someone you know is dealing with a death of someone close to them, please keep these DOs and DON’Ts in mind! They’ll be happier for it and you’ll look less annoying.
1. DON’T SAY: They’re in a better place now.
I’m going to be extremely blunt. You ready? If that person isn’t religious, those words mean NOTHING.
I’m not religious, like at ALL. So, when I hear that he’s in a better place, all I hear is that his cremated remains are sitting in my mother’s closet. I know you mean well, but just don’t.
SAY: I can’t even begin to understand what you’re going through.
Because unless you’ve actually lost someone really close to you, you really don’t know what that person is going through. Additionally, every person processes grief differently.
2. DON’T SAY: I know how you feel.
Like I said above, it’s REALLY hard to know exactly what someone is feeling at the time of loss. By saying you know how you feel, you are, in a way, diminishing their own feelings.
Sometimes silence is more comforting than words.
3. DON’T SAY: Stay strong.
When someone passes, it’s perfectly normal to break down in tears, feel weakened by the loss, or even feel absolutely exhausted. When someone tells you to be strong, they mean well, but it just feels like they’re telling you not to process your feelings. And that’s not cool!
SAY: I know this is a hard time, and I want you to know that I’m here if you need anything.
Believe it or not, just knowing someone is there to pick you up when you can’t move a muscle can alleviate some of the pressure that person may feel.
4. DON’T SAY: At least they lived a long life.
No. No. No. A THOUSAND TIMES NO! It doesn’t matter if the person who passed was 110 years old, it’s NEVER enough time if it’s someone you love.
SAY: Take your time with this and know I’m always here.
One of the things I’m always afraid of is being accused of milking a situation. I have to remind myself that I lost an integral part of my life when my dad died and my heart likely won’t ever be the same. Just knowing that someone understands that means the world.
5. DON’T SAY: You still have so much to be happy for.
I, like the person you’re talking to, is mostly likely VERY aware that they still have good things going on in their life. Despite the great job, great spouse, and that awesome BMW, it still friggin’ hurts to lose someone. Let me grieve.
SAY: Can I get you a tissue?
Yes, you can get me a damn tissue because chances are, I’m going to be crying, A LOT! I don’t need to be reminded of all I have because all I can think about is the person I lost.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grievedifferently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.