Less can be more when consoling the grieving
Published 4:18 pm, Monday, May 6, 2013
Ken came to see me following the loss of Jeanette, his beloved wife of 40 years. Getting to sleep at night was nearly impossible for him and getting up each morning was equally difficult.
The type of agony Ken was experiencing is hard to fathom -- until it happens to us. In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and, more recently, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, death, tragedy, grief and loss are at the forefront of our minds. Yet most of us are at a loss for words when it comes to offering comfort and support to the aggrieved.
There is no prepared script to offer family and loved ones when tragedy strikes. As a result, well-meaning folks frequently say exactly the wrong things to the aggrieved, and here are some examples:
I'm so sorry about your husband's passing; you should feel grateful that he's no longer in pain.
Losing your dog must have been hard but you can always get a new pet.
I'm so sorry for the loss of your daughter; at least you have three other children.
Instead of weeping about the loss of your best friend, focus on everything for which you have to be grateful.
I know this is painful, but it could have been so much worse.
Crying about the loss of your son won't change the facts. It's time to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and move forward.
You're never given more than you can handle.
I'm so sorry you've lost your partner. At least her death came quickly whereas my partner died a slow and painful death.
These are just a few of the platitudes offered, unwittingly, to the aggrieved. Why do we wind up saying such unhelpful things to those who are already coping with tremendous pain? In the vast majority of cases, these kinds of statements are said without malice and in a sincere attempt to help. Here are some of the reasons for our unintended insensitivity:
We may not understand that grieving is a normal healing process that occurs in response to loss and the aggrieved must go through it.
What comforts those in the face of loss was neither taught to nor modeled for us.
We haven'texperienced a similar loss and therefore don't know how to be of comfort.
We may have trouble "getting into someone else's shoes" in times of trouble.
We are running from our own fear of loss and therefore don't want to see others suffering with the strong emotions loss engenders.
We want desperately to spare others the painful feelings that accompany tragedy.
We don't understand that before people can get perspective on their loss they need the time and space to grieve it.
Whatever the cause of our insensitivity in the face of someone else's loss, understand that what they actually need to hear from us is simple and straightforward: That we are saddened by their loss, that we care, and that we are there to help. Conveying these seemingly small messages will help them to feel understood and less encumbered.