For the most part, I like to believe that people are kind and want to help. In times of grief, there are often no words that can express the emotions or feelings or describe the range of intensity that comes with losing a person you love.
As someone who has lost their only child, I can tell you that while some comments don’t make it worse, they can add another layer of anxiety or frustration to our already challenging journey.
I am often asked and today I will cover some key points of grief.
Everything in this post has either been said to me or to people I know. You can never fully appreciate my experience, nor would I want you to, but perhaps I can shed some light on what it’s like from my side.
As humans, we feel an overwhelming need to fill in silence with words. Before you speak, think about where the person is on their journey. There are some things that MAY be appropriate later but are not in the early stages.
This includes sharing truths / beliefs / experiences. More on that soon.
My advice – If in doubt, leave it out!
Less is more… but nothing at all can also be too little.
When we know someone that has experienced a loss, our first instinct is to comfort them. Comfort is a human’s way of trying to lessen or take away the pain.
When our child falls off their bike, we comfort them. We give them a band-aid, a big hug, and maybe some ice cream.
In grief, there is NOTHING that can take the pain away. Please don’t even try.
Hopefully that single statement will take some pressure off you, as we begin to unpack.
DON’T TRY TO FIX THIS
It’s not your job to fix someone grieving. You can’t.
Your job is not to find the silver lining for them either. Only we can do this.
Your job (if you choose) is to simply support them.
Do this by letting me know you are there.
But what if they start crying? Just listen. It’s all part of grieving.
I will cry at various times for different lengths of time and to different extents. Sometimes it’s just my eyes welling up, sometimes it’s ugly crying.
Do you know when you are going to cry next? Neither do I!
Don’t talk them out of what they are feeling.
My feelings, no matter how incomprehensible to you, are REAL.
Don’t try and change what they are going through.
Let me go through it and allow me the space to do what I feel I need to do at any given moment. Don’t judge me!
Don’t tell me there is always someone else worse off than me. I am WELL aware! But this is not helpful.
Don’t compare losses. Losing a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, a child are all different experiences. One loss cannot be compared with another.
‘I know it’s not the same, but I understand how you feel, I had to put our dog down a few weeks ago…’
You should start dating again
You should move on
I think it’s time to move on – It’s been a while now
Only think about the good times
Don’t cry it will be okay – In our head’s we are screaming NO IT WON’T!! IT WILL NEVER BE OKAY!
TRUTHS | BELIEFS | EXPERIENCES
Ah, this is a big one! In the early days, a person grieving can only see the depth of the black hole they are in. They can’t see the future, be that in one hour or 2 years from now.
At some point, it may be okay to share your own truth, belief, or experience, but please pick your moment. Early on is NOT the time. In fact, it may never be the time.
Whilst these may be logically accurate, they are not helpful and can be extremely hurtful or insulting.
There have been times I have not had the energy to tell someone that what they just said was the stupidest most insensitive thing anyone has said to me so far. And, WTF were you thinking?!.
Our response may be to remain silent, file this comment, and withdraw.
- Time heals
- You’ll grow from this
- This will make you stronger
- Everyone dies eventually – (really!! I had no idea!!)
- When your time is up, it’s up
- He had a great life
- Everything is going to be okay
In the early stages, this can invoke anger and frustration. You don’t feel like it is going to be okay and almost resent someone suggesting that it will be! It can also further diminish the importance and severity of the loss and how you are feeling.
DON’T EVER SAY
- I know exactly how you feel
- You were so good last time we caught up, what happened?
- I can’t believe you haven’t moved on
- It must have been their time
- When your time is up there’s nothing you can do
- He’s in a better place
- Be grateful you had them for xx years – Really?!! At what year would you be willing to give up YOUR child?
And ANY sentence that starts with
- He went quickly
- He didn’t feel anything
- You will get over this
- You have / can have other children
- You are still young
- He had a good life
- He died doing what he loved
DON’T BLAME / SHAME / COMPARE
This relates to the person that is grieving AND the person that has died.
- They didn’t think that through did they?
- They put themselves in that position
- Your grief is crazy / intense!
- Wow, are you still talking about them? / You talk about them a lot!
- You are spending (wasting) a lot of energy thinking about that
- He thought you were mad at him cos you hadn’t been in touch
- You dumped him!
- Considering how close you were, how could you not know something was wrong?
- If something happened to my child, I would kill myself!
- God only takes the good ones
- Be thankful for…
- It’s great that you’re doing so well
- You are so strong / so brave!
Let me say something from personal experience. I don’t feel strong or brave! And sometimes saying I am, implies I am doing something special. I’m really not. I’m just trying to survive my worst nightmare and make it count. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t want you to pity me or pat me on the head.
What I know is I am resilient!
What I did was look my tragedy in the face and scream at it with tears pouring down my cheeks yelling,
‘FINE, you just watch me make this count!! You watch me make a difference!!’
When you lose a child, you feel like you need to continually justify – having a good day, looking well, laughing hard, feeling happy, getting excited, and not having cried for a few hours, weeks, or months.
It can be exhausting, and we often feel guilty for knowing these things to be true.
One of my most traumatic moments was the first time I burst out laughing after Ben. I don’t remember the circumstances but I will never forget the feeling.
As soon as I realised, my laughter quickly turned to hysterical crying. How could I be laughing when Ben wasn’t here anymore? What kind of a horrible person was I, What kind of a mother was I?!
I spiraled with my thoughts. ‘OMG, Ben’s not here anymore, so I’m not even a mother!! If I’m not a mother who and what the hell am I??
Finally, this might seem like a lot to absorb, and it is. Don’t stress though. No one will perfect this. Sometimes we will say the right things, sometimes we won’t.
Simply speak with sincerity and think about your words before you say them.
There is so much more to unpack and we haven’t even gotten to what you can say or do. That’s coming next week 😊
Dalya xx 💙