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What to say to those who are grieving...

Published by Chapster on 2006/2/22 (24504 reads)
It's always hard to know what to say to those who have experienced a loss. On February 6, 2006, Mike met with Dr. James Griffin, Station Director of KEOM 88.5FM, to discuss just this topic. We meet with Dr. Griffin each month to tape a broadcast for their Community Focus segment. So, though it's sometimes an ambivalent experience to speak of loss, it can be done without leaving an offense. Read on to learn a little bit about what to say to those who are grieving...

Dr. Griffin: So, Mike, what are we talking about today?

Mike: Recently, someone was inquiring of ElderHope if we had suggestions for things to actually say to those who are grieving. That’s a question that we’ve often had so I thought I’d try to make some suggestions with the reasons why those things are appropriate to say.

Dr. Griffin: Sounds good! I know we all struggle with what to say in the face of such overwhelming emotions.

Mike: That’s right. And actually, it leads us to one of the most valuable things that we can say: “I cannot imagine how hard this must be.” It acknowledges that we don’t know how the person may feel. Sometimes people are, indeed, glad that their loved one is not suffering anymore. Other times, the loss runs so deep that it feels utterly beyond expression and understanding. It is important that we not pigeonhole the grief of another.

Another thing that we can ask is this: “If you feel like talking, I’d be glad to hear how your doing?” This shows that we respect their feelings and their sense of timing. It also invites them to share in a more concrete way than the trite and timeworn “let me know if there’s anything I can do.” It is important to recognize that people may not be ready to talk.

Dr. Griffin: I know that one thing that makes people uncomfortable is tears.

Mike: Right. Tears make us quite uncomfortable. But, in a very real sense, they are one very natural way of processing powerful emotions. Often people say to Grievers, “Don’t cry.” It is much better to say something along these lines: “Go ahead and cry. I don’t mind. It’s the hardest thing in the world to lose someone you love. It’s natural that you would be tearful.” This statement acknowledges the tears as tokens of great emotion. It also states that you accept their emotions as normal, welcome, and valued. Finally, it says that you are prepared to support their emotional needs. This is a great comfort to those who are grieving. It normalizes their experience. So often, those who are grieving feel like pariahs, like they have some form of leprosy. They feel misunderstood.

Another thing that helps comes later in the grief process. It is this: “You know, grief may take a while to process.” So often, our culture has norms about the grief process that has some very definite timelines that should be followed. When we speak these timelines to those who are grieving, it often hurts them. Many grievers have spoken of how hard it is when family and others essentially monitor the Griever with a stopwatch. Grief is so deeply individual that it really is impossible to time a grief process. Indeed, it often slows the grief process down if family or friends don’t give Grievers the time and space they need.

Dr. Griffin: This is helpful, Mike. Recognizing the impact of the loss seems central.

Mike: Right. And, also, we should speak honestly and from the heart, while not imposing our beliefs. In the movie Steel Magnolias, Darryl Hannah’s character expresses her condolences to Sally Fields in a way that, initially, Sally Fields takes wrongly. But, it is so obviously sincere, when explained, so honest, so straight from the heart, that it touches the hearts of all that are present in a profound and beautiful way. When we speak caringly and honestly, it’s always appropriate.

Tags: loss   grief   bereavement   sorrow  

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