Unfortunately, with a mass shooting occurring every day in the United States (CDC), adults, teens and children are having to deal with grief on a regular basis. In addition to family members and friends, first responders such as EMTs and Emergency Room staff are dealing with grief due to these mass shootings. Adults may have an idea how to deal with grief, but teenagers and children do not. Our society does not deal with death in a healthy manner. Therefore, many people do not know what to do for or what to say to someone who is grieving. Many patients have asked me about what to do in these situations. While doing research regarding grief for patients, I found this information from the grief center.
This last week and this weekend have really shined a light on the problem of mass shootings. There was the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, another one at a church in California and the most shocking one the shooting at the elementary school in Texas killing 21 mostly 10 year old children. Additionally, we have already had another 3 mass shootings during the Memorial Day weekend. To add to the trauma, the NRA held their convention in Texas near the elementary school and had the nerve to tell people that we don’t have a gun problem and we are imagining it. This type of insane rhetoric only make the grief and trauma that people are experiencing worse.
Since all of these shootings have been being covered by the news, children are well aware of these shootings and are asking questions and having emotional reactions. These mass shootings are a very hard subject to explain to kids who are asking about these shootings and are they safe. As I researched this topic, I found information from the Grief Center and I think it is very good information and very easy to understand. Unfortunately, it is needed at this time as we grieve for victims of the current mass shootings especially the elementary school shooting. As a result, many children and adults are feeling overwhelmed and do not know what to do right now. Therefore, I will present the Grief Center information in three sections.
The 10 Best and 10 Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief
Sheryl Sandberg’s post on Facebook gave us much insight into how those in grief feel about the responses of others to loss. Many of us have said “The Best” and “The Worst.” We meant no harm, in fact the opposite. We were trying to comfort. A grieving person may say one of the worst ones about themselves and it’s OK. It may make sense for a member of the clergy to say, “He is in a better place” when someone comes to them for guidance. Where as an acquaintance saying it may not feel good.
You would also not want to say to someone, you are in the stages of grief. In our work, On Grief and Grieving, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and I share that the stages were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. While some of these things to say have been helpful to some people, the way in which they are often said has the exact opposite effect than what was originally intended.
The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief
1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.
4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…
6. I am always just a phone call away
7. Give a hug instead of saying something
8. We all need help at times like this, I am here for you
9. I am usually up early or late, if you need anything
10. Saying nothing, just be with the person
The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief
1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young
2. He is in a better place
3. She brought this on herself
4. There is a reason for everything
5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now
6. You can have another child still
7. She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him
8. I know how you feel
9. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go
10. Be strong
Best & Worst Traits of people just trying to help
When in the position of wanting to help a friend or loved one in grief, often times our first desire is to try to “fix” the situation, when in all actuality our good intentions can lead to nothing but more grief. Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional caregiver. We have comprised two lists which examine both the GOOD and the NOT SO GOOD traits of people just trying to help.
The Best Traits
Supportive, but not trying to fix it
Non active, not telling anyone what to do
Admitting can’t make it better
Not asking for something or someone to change feelings
Not time limited
The Worst Traits
They want to fix the loss
They are about our discomfort
They are directive in nature
They rationalize or try to explain loss/li>
They may be judgmental
May minimize the loss
Put a timeline on loss
The above information is meant to be used as a guideline. Everyone goes through the grieving process in their own way. The main point of grieving is rebuilding your life without your loved one being physically present anymore. Also since these incidents have created trauma, we have to find away to continue to live our lives without letting the fear paralyze us. It is very important to understand these points. It is also important to remember while the above is a guideline, the most important thing is your intent. So if you say a worse thing but you said it out of love the person will understand. The guideline will hopefully make you more comfortable to offer support to your grieving loved one or friend. Because someone who is grieving needs people to talk to without people feeling awkward. Also everyone is around immediately after the death and through the funeral services. Most people then go back to their normal lives. However, those who were really close to the person are still grieving and trying to figure out how to proceed with life. So don’t forget the person who is grieving can use emotional support for the first year especially. Therefore, do not forget to call, send a card or stop by occasionally. Especially around the holidays and birthdays.
These mass shootings have destroyed the illusion that we are safe at home. Also since there were children killed, other children may experience a traumatic response. Children may start to have nightmares, be afraid to be left alone, be afraid of their parents going to work or they may become very quiet and just want to stay at home. The point is there are a number of reactions they can have to these events. If you are noticing a reaction, talk to them. Do not ignore their reactions. Ignoring the reactions only increases the anxiety. Remember, children have very vivid imaginations. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. If you are concerned about the reactions you are seeing, schedule an appointment with a child psychotherapist. Schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and trauma victims. Talking about their fears is very important. When you do not talk about their fears openly and calmly, children take this as a sign that you are too afraid to tell them how bad the situation is and their imaginations go wild. Therefore, as hard as it may be because you are worried too, talk to your children about the events.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 25 years experience as a psychotherapist treating adolescents, children, their families and trauma victims including first responders. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy