Someone I know had someone close die recently. They asked me why people thought it was ok to ask if the passing had been peaceful. These are NOT the words used...rather the question. The loved one had died from a ravaging cancer and it was a brutal end. My friend said that the response should have been, "NO! It was brutal and awful and painful and it was NOT peaceful!!" But....non-grievers don't want to hear that....they want to be comforted in their own fears or worries and their own stories about death and do not imagine how it sounds to someone who sat and watched the hard hard end come while their heart broke into a million pieces.
Others I know...from all my connections since David died have shared their own painful experiences....words spoken thoughtlessly though with good intention quite often.
(I have a personal bias that says that good intentions with regard to grief are not enough, we need to be more thought-full) :
"It's the same as divorce. Get over it. Stop crying!"
(Divorce is a grief...AND it is NOT the same when someone dies...don't compare!)
"He would want you to be happy."
(And you know this because???????)
"Others have had more than one family member die. You only had one."
(Oh, excuse me! I forgot that others have MORE pain than me. How selfish of me to grieve _______!)
"Hold tight to your memories."
(Sounds great right? However early grief and memories usually = pain)
"You're young, you can marry again (have another child, etc)"
(And that will make up for the loss how?)
"I can't stand to see you cry so I can't be around you."
(Yeah....ok....gonna have to file you under "not a friend")
"You're just so sad all the time."
(Imagine that! My ____ died and I'm sad!)
"So...you're back to work. Guess you're ok now."
(Well I got only got a week of bereavement time so I didn't have a choice)
"I can't be there for you because you're just so empty."
(Wow! My job to fill YOU up huh?)
"You know, there ARE five stages of grief!"
(Um....yup....for the dying and even then NOT the original intention...but more on that later)
"The sooner you accept this, the better off you'll be."
(Really?!?!? Where is it written that acceptance wipes out all the pain?)
"God wanted another angel."
(Hmmmm....sorry....I'm agnostic...or atheist...or poly-theistic)
"Jesus will take your pain."
(Ok....but I'm Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc)
"If you had/hadn't _______ he/she would still be here."
(Oh yeah, blame always makes people feel better)
"He/she is in a better place."
(Again....you know this how???)
"I think he/she knew they were going to die."
(Superpower??? You think so??? That's comforting to me in what way exactly??)
"I don't get why you are still upset about this _______ months/days/years later."
(Because I still miss ____. Because I loved them and that love doesn't go away.)
"Are you STILL talking about ________?! When are you going to get over this?!"
(Yes I am. Partly because _____ is still dead and I still feel that loss. Partly because speaking their name and talking about them allows them not to die in my heart. As to getting over????? What does that mean to you? Because I am confused about how you think I 'should' be and I am wondering why that is your 'lane'?)
This is a short list.
Along with my smart-assed responses.
There is also the silence. Those who drop away as friends. Those who were there in the beginning but two or three years later (and often a LOT earlier) just fade away into the distance.
I have listened to other grievers bemoan the inadequacy of support.
It is tricky business.
A newly bereaved person may not know what they need. They may not feel capable of reaching out for help.
Platitudes roll off our tongues like those empty greetings of "How are you?" - "How's your day?" - "Ok now, take care." etc, because standing before another person we often feel the need to communicate in some fashion. The problem with that is that we don't really want to hear how someone else is...most of the time anyway....and we mean that something we say as 'just' something we say because.....well, we feel that we can't just walk away. So we say things like: "You know, Grief is just love with nowhere to go." (Hello! NOT comforting!) But.....we read it somewhere and it sounds profound so let's go with that. Most of what we say to grievers comes from our cultural avoidance of death and the aftermath.
Funny....that word avoidance. It could easily be taken as "A Void Dance". We are afraid of dancing with the void....the Unknown. (Word Geek Alert)
If we happened to be raised with parents or a family structure that would not speak of death or, like my mother, felt that once the person was dead and buried, there should not be any further talk of them or what happened.......then we are left unskilled and uncomfortable when thinking about someone dying or knowing how to comfort a grieving friend.
So....education is the answer I have come to.
We, the Grieflings (not my word...but coined on one of the groups I belong to), we feel so much pain and frustration and fear....and we so often do not reach out or speak out when confronted with the ineptness (not a criticism but an observation) of Non-Grieflings.
For Non-Grieflings there are lots of questions and frustrations with Grieflings.
"Why doesn't she ever say 'Yes' to my invitations to get together? I mean, I'm trying here!"
(Yes you are...and perhaps there is another way to ask her that takes her grieving into account?)
"Why is he still sad? It's been _________(days, months, years). Why can't he move on?!"
(Time doesn't matter in grief. It goes on as long as it goes on. Maybe you could gently and lovingly ask him what he is doing that brings him comfort...even momentarily)
"All she ever does is talk about her son's death. I can't bear to hear another word!"
(Yes....she hasn't felt heard yet and may always want to talk about her son. Why can't you bear to hear another word???)
"Maybe he should get some help. He's so depressed. Should I say something to him?
(Maybe he should. Maybe he already has. Depression is also sadness and deep pain and fear. You might gently and lovingly ask how you could be of help for him. You might gently and lovingly ask if he has found any resources that have helped him yet. Always ask....don't tell)
These are just a few....with the answers that feel right from what I have learned in my experience and in my Grief Educator Course.
This has all been heavily on my mind.
I want to be of service.
So somehow....and I have not yet figured it out.....there needs to be.....and I want to create...a forum for those who love and or care about someone in grief. A safe space to go to learn what helps and what doesn't and to express frustrations and get new perspectives and questions answered.
Support for Supporters. (I definitely need a better name)
Let me know what you have heard and felt in YOUR experience whether Griefling or not.
Working together for solutions seems the way to go.
*Griefling is a term coined by a fellow griever in an online group I belong to.