The Dos and Don’ts of Support After Losson July 26th, 2011
Many of us have found ourselves in the awkward position of not knowing what to say when a friend is going through a loss or transition. We all know how it feels: Our mouths go dry, our palms get sweaty, and we leave feeling like we have said the absolute wrong thing.
Here are a few helpful tips that might get you through those moments. Happy Healing!
1. I know how you feel.
Hmmm…not really. I know you can sympathize, but until you’ve lived my life every day, there is a good chance that you don’t.
INSTEAD: How are you feeling?
Ask with sincerity and be prepared to practice active listening.
2. This was part of God’s plan.
That may very well be, but it really wasn’t part of mine. Hearing that right after a loss usually doesn’t help to make it “okay.” There may be a time for that, but that is something that you should wait for the person going through the loss to say. Even the most spiritual person may not be ready to digest that quite yet.
INSTEAD: This is one I do not have a “blanket statement” for. You need to assess where your friend is in their grief process. Loss can change feelings about religion in so many ways and this is not the best time to go into detail about your own beliefs. If this is a person you have known to be a spiritual person, it may be appropriate to gently ask how things may have changed in that department. And, whatever they say, DO NOT JUDGE.
3. It’s been awhile. Shouldn’t you be over this by now?
There is no expiration date on loss. Actually…there is no expiration date on anything we might feel. Any major life transition comes with feelings we may very well carry with us always.
INSTEAD: I know this may be a difficult time for you. I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you.
Don’t assume that just because it may appear that your friend has “moved on” that he/she doesn’t still carry those feelings of loss with them. Milestones and grief in general are something that we will feel and recognize for the rest of our lives. It makes us feel cared for when you do an “emotion check” every once in awhile…even years later.
4. Everything happens for a reason.
Again…that may very well be. But we can’t see the reason right now. We may never see it. And if we do…let it be up to us to tell you about it.
INSTEAD: He/She was such an amazing person. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding why this has happened.
Well, sure. THAT we get. Most of us can’t understand why this has happened either. And that feeling of shock will revisit us for a long time. It helps us to know that you recognize that.
5. At least he didn’t suffer.
Anything along those lines is really not helpful. Truthfully…even if it was something instantaneous, most widow(er)s have visions of what the last moments were like for our loved ones. We are constantly wondering what they were thinking. And in many cases…you don’t know for sure if they didn’t suffer. So it’s best just to not go there.
INSTEAD: Most widow(er)s are open to talking about their experience during their loved one’s last days. It’s okay to ask questions…but truly assess how your friend is reacting. If you’re getting one word answers…they probably don’t want to talk about it. If they start telling you the story, actively listen to what they have to say. Don’t be surprised if you get a “robot-like” account of what happened. Widow(er)s are often surprised at how they can mechanically tell their “story.” This doesn’t mean they are not completely devastated by the experience. It’s just a coping mechanism.
6. He’s in a better place.
Again…that could be true. But most of us consider ourselves rather “selfish” and would rather have them here with us. And I can guarantee that if you say that to just about any widow(er), you’ll be left with an uncomfortable silence. Because we really have no response to that.
INSTEAD: I really miss when he used to ______.
Instead of asking the widow(er) to picture him some place that’s not here with us, maybe remind them of a good memory. Don’t shy away from mentioning their name or sharing something you remember. This is a person we think about constantly. It’s nice to be able to share and feel like a part of them is still here. We don’t want to be the only people who remember our loved one who is gone.
7. At least you didn’t have children.
Um. Yeah. Well, we could have been trying to have children and you didn’t know about it. We could have been putting it off for one more year and now we’re filled with regret. We could have decided we never wanted children, but the bottom line is: Whether or not we had children has no bearing on how much we are grieving right now.
INSTEAD: This is a tough one and is really up to your friend to talk about what their plans were for family. Chances are, even if they look to the future and see themselves in a new relationship, there is a certain amount of sadness that comes with knowing that they will never have children with the significant other that they lost. And if they have never seen having children in their future, you should keep in mind that they have lost the person they thought they would be spending every major event with for the rest of their lives. They have lost their family. Be sensitive to that.
8. You’re so young/vibrant/such a great catch, you’ll find someone else.
But we don’t want to. We don’t want to start over from scratch. And we know that you mean well, but right now we’re just trying to pick up the pieces of our lives and function. The idea of a new relationship (that comes with the possibility of going through something like this AGAIN) is a little much. When and if we get to that point, we will let you know. And that’s when we can use that kind of encouragement.
Let’s set up a monthly girls/guys night where we can get together. We can stay in or go out…you choose.
Most of us are lonely. We miss our mates. But the idea of dating is incredibly overwhelming. Friendly companionship may be the closest we can come to socializing for awhile. Coordinating nights out or in can be really hard for a widow(er)…especially in the beginning. Can you help us with that?
9. I will never forget how hard it was when my grandmother/cousin/pet died.
I have no doubt that that was difficult for you. But what we are going through is completely different. And please don’t compare our loss to one that you’ve been through. We realize that you’re trying to relate to us, but for some reason it doesn’t come across that way. If your loss was similar to ours, look for a sign from us that we want you to talk about it.
INSTEAD: Try not to be too invasive, but most of us would really like to talk to someone about our own experience. And we can tell when someone is sincerely asking and when they’re just trying to fill the silence. Think of it this way: Mentally draw upon your own loss experience in order to ask educated questions about ours: Were there a lot of people at the hospital? Was there a moment you knew they were gone? These may sound like odd questions, but widow(er)s usually don’t mind talking about the loss with people we know are listening with a loving ear.
10. You’re so strong.
I know this sounds odd, but most of us don’t want to hear that. Because most of us don’t feel that way. We’re falling apart inside and for some reason, someone saying this in admiration makes us feel as though we need to keep up a brave front. It adds to the pressure we’re already feeling.
INSTEAD: How are you doing?
I know I’ve said it before, but truly and sincerely asking us how we are doing and taking the time to listen to the answer is always your best bet. I can almost guarantee you that no matter how “strong” your friend may look…they don’t feel that way on the inside and they are just hoping someone asks them how they are really doing. Bring the tissues, look at them, and give them all of your attention. That means more to us than anything.
© Catherine Tidd 2011