It’s the Holiday Season a time to spend time with family and friends. However, many people have lost a loved one this year or they are still grieving the lost of a loved from from last year or the year before. Grief has no time limits on how long it will last. I have had many patients ask me how to respond to a family member or friend who is grieving especially during this time of year. People ask me questions about grief because our society has a very difficult time with death and grief. We try not to discuss it and avoid the topic. With a mass shooting happening every 1.2 days (CDC). It becoming very difficult to avoid this topic.
While doing research regarding grief for patients who have asked me what to say to grieving people, I found this information from the grief center. I think it is very good information and very easy to understand. Therefore, I will present the 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 a great deal of 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. It is very important to understand that point. 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 need people to talk to without people feeling awkward.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who has over 20 years experience treating adolescents, children and their families. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino visit his website http://www.rcs-ca.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy