If you have lost someone you love, you know that there are no guidelines or instructions on how to get through your grief. You also know that people who try to support you will offer well known platitudes in an attempt to comfort you, but many of these comments do nothing more than confuse and hurt you.
It has been a decade since I lost my husband and son within two years of each other. Immediately after my losses, when some of these comments were made to me, I didn’t understand why I felt more upset than comforted by the statements. A decade later, I now have some insight into why, at least for the griever, these comments can cause additional pain. And why those wanting to support a loved one should use them with caution.
#1 Grief will make you stronger
I have never bought into the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” theory. I don’t know about you, but I never asked or wanted to be stronger. I only wanted my loved ones and my life back.
While I do not believe that my losses have made me stronger, I can recognize that suffering has made me more resilient, but it came with a price. I almost didn’t make it through my losses and the fallout of my grief. The pain of grief can break you. Not everyone survives their pain. Many people have been broken, mentally, physically, and emotionally by the death of their loved one. This type of suffering in grief can be brutal and this saying should not be taken so lightly.
“While I do not believe that my losses have made me stronger, I can recognize that suffering has made me more resilient, but it came with a price.”
While grief brought loss and a tremendous amount of pain to my life, it has helped me understand what is, and what is not, important in my life. And I can more easily let go of the things, or people, in life that do not serve me in a positive and healthy way.
Going through the pain of loss has also made me more empathetic. I now understand and feel heartbreak when I hear that someone is going through loss and suffering. I now see pain in other’s eyes, that before my losses, I did not recognize.
Suffering is a formidable opponent, an opponent we never asked to face. But suffering, while not making us stronger, can broaden our perspective on life, on ourselves, and on our fellow man.
#2 Everything happens for a reason
I find this statement particularly upsetting. Even before losing my loved ones, this way of thinking made no sense to me. As a pediatric intensive care nurse I saw children die unnecessary and preventable deaths. What possible reason could there be for an innocent child to die a tragic, painful, prolonged death? What possible reason could there be for a parent to lose a child to a horrific murder? What reason could there be for a child to be abused by an adult who is supposed to protect them? I just don’t buy the reasoning that this is all part of God’s plan. Why would a loving God allow the suffering of someone who has done nothing to deserve it?
There is no intelligent, or empathetic, way to defend the statement that everything happens for a reason. I understand that for some, the idea of this brings comfort, and that is fine. But for those who have lost loved ones in terrible, unfathomable ways, this statement is no comfort. In fact, it can bring much more suffering.
#3 Time heals all wounds
Time becomes a very strange thing after someone you love has died. Not only does life as you know it come to an abrupt stop, but so does time. Eventually the clock starts moving again, but without your loved one at your side, the concept of time is completely altered and time moves agonizingly slow.
One day without your loved one can feel as long as a month. One year without them can seem like ten. Ten years can seem a lifetime. Death will change many things in life, including your perspective on time.
Regardless of what you are told, time does not have the magical ability to heal. You won’t wake up one day with your pain suddenly gone. What time does offer you is the space to eventually learn how to carry the pain. The pain never goes away, but by working through your emotions, it can become bearable, making it possible for love and loss to live side by side in your heart. The love you shared, and your memories, can combine to create a healing balm that will soothe the wounds of your loss, and one day you will find that the pain is at least tolerable.
“Regardless of what you are told, time does not have the magical ability to heal. You won’t wake up one day with your pain suddenly gone.”
As someone who has struggled with grief I can offer up some insights into a griever’s world:
We don’t want to have to act like we are ok, when we aren’t.
We don’t want to pretend we don’t miss our lost loved one, because we do, and we always will.
We don’t want to have to walk on eggshells when someone doesn’t know what to say to us, we are already walking a tightrope and barely keeping our balance.
We are doing our best to put our lives back together and all we really need is understanding and patience.
For someone who wants to support a loved one who is struggling with grief, but who isn’t quite sure what to say that will help ― just your physical presence, and telling us you are here for us, or simply asking what you can do to help, has so much more value than offering up one of these generic statements.
No one, and nothing, can fix this for us. There is really nothing you can do or say, but just letting us know that you see our pain, and that you are there, is the most helpful thing you can do.
You can find my book, The Other Side of Complicated Grief, here.
You can find my grief community support group on Facebook, here.
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.