As I have lived a life where grief has been woven into the tapestry often, I have people ask the question of me: What do I say to someone who is hurting or going through grief? The answer is simple, just listen to them. They simply need someone to simply listen without judgement, not to fix or advise and to never criticise their emotional response to the loss. The griever’s pain is very real and should be validated without any of the above.
To know how to respond to a griever is paramount for the helper. The best intentions that may work in other situations don’t benefit a griever whose emotions are on high alert and very sensitive. The dynamics are extremely fragile around a person who has had a traumatic loss. Their entire world may have crumbled and normalcy is non-existent.
I advise a supporter to never use the following phrases to a griever:
· Get over it
· I know how you feel
· Everything happens for a reason
· Just give yourself time
· At least they are out of pain
· At least we know where they are
· Tomorrow you will feel better
· Be grateful for the time you had together
· You need to ........
Be mindful that the griever is hurting and hurting very badly. They perceive advice very differently to someone else because their whole world has shattered. A simple statement like one of the above, made in haste can cut to the bone or multiply a griever’s anxiety.
A griever doesn’t need “fixing” because they are not broken. Listening is the operative as they may want to express their pain or recount some detail of what has taken place. Don’t interrupt them or tell them a similar story that you have experienced. Telling them they need to do something is pre-empting where they are on their personal grief journey and frankly, no-one knows that except the griever. If you must talk, ask them how they feel after they have expressed themselves. Validate their pain by saying “I can’t imagine how that must have felt for you! ” Use feeling phrases rather than doing directives.
Be available for the griever so they know someone cares and is always there for support. Be present for them. Be ever mindful of their sensitive and distorted mindset that can fracture easily. Empathise by walking along side them.
Most importantly, simply love them. I love this quote “there are no words to say, but know that I am always here for you.” That says it all.
I hope this benefits you next time you don’t know what to say to a person in grief.
Thank you for reading.