I'm not all that smart. I don't think all that quick on my feet. I can rarely find the right words in person. But there is one thing I think I know and I know it well.
Grief. I know how to address grief.
I'm not saying that I handle my own grief very well because I know that I really don't - that's part of the reason I was up crying at 1:45 am while writing this post. Oh dear, morning will come altogether too soon! I do, however, know how to address the grief suffered by other people.
Since my brother died three weeks ago I have heard all kinds of platitudes and lamentations. I can honestly say that most of the things people say are helpful, but some are not. I stop short of saying that those people are unkind. . .I just think that no one really knows what to say when someone suffers a devastating loss. Coupled with the fact that sibling loss is not a widely recognized type of grief in society (loss of parents, spouses, and children are definitely covered, however), I think it's not terribly surprising that no one really knows what to say.
In an effort to educate the readership on what not to say to someone who is grieving, here are what I have determined are the best things to say (and not to say!) to a person who is suffering grief. Please enjoy and learn from this Public Service Announcement.
- I'm sorry. It doesn't bring a loved one back, but it's somehow nice to know that someone feels the loss through your loss. . .does that make sense?
- Can I bring you a meal? I never understood this line. . .until I suffered a severe loss. Yes, please do bring a meal because grieving families are not thinking about their bellies and they might not eat at all otherwise.
- I'm here whenever you want to talk about it. It might be a long time, but know that one day this loss will need to be processed. Verbally. Be a friend; just listen and offer tissue as necessary.
- I wish there was something I could say that could help. Let's face it, there is nothing that can help when someone is suffering grief. But it is still a kind thing to say that might give some measure of comfort.
- I'll miss him/her. It doesn't remove the pain, but grieving friends and family usually like to know that their missing loved one was loved by others.
- I'm sorry. I mention this one again because it is such an appropriate response that so many can't seem to give. You aren't accepting responsibility for the death, you are empathizing with someone who hurts.
- He/She is in a better place. Really? Because the person who is grieving feels that their loved one's better place is with them!
- At least they aren't suffering. Guess what? Grieving friends and families want their loved one back living on this planet, sans suffering.
- God has a plan. You know, I agree that God does, in fact, have a plan. And that plan is not much comfort to someone who is longing for a loved one on this side of Heaven.
- Aren't you over it by now? No, apparently they are not. Show a little love and compassion for someone who hurts a little more deeply than you do or someone who takes longer to process grief than you might.
It's comforting to share fond or funny memories of the departed, to hold hands or hug the grieving family and friends, and, perhaps most importantly, to check in on them long after the funeral flowers have died. Grief can take a long time to process, people. Some suffer loss much harder than you might and, as a friend, you should show kindness, love, and compassion for your friend.
Besides me, do you know someone who is hurting today? Was hurting yesterday? Reach out to them in kindness. . .your contact might just be the boost that they really need to make it through yet another day without their loved one.
In closing, I can think of nothing better to say than love God, love your family, and love your friends. Cherish today because you just don't know what tomorrow might bring.