What not to say to people who are grieving

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You never stop learning in this life and one of the things I have learned since my soulmate died last August is that many people are totally grief illiterate.  No, it’s not that they don’t know what to say but rather they say too much, when in actual fact there is nothing to say. 

What people need, especially in the days and weeks following the death of a loved one, is practical help, a shoulder to cry on and empathy. What they don’t generally need  is people trying to make them feel better. Because someone who has lost the most important person in their life cannot feel better. What they do is actually make bereaved people feel worse. 

People generally mean well so I am not criticising individuals for doing the wrong thing, but the problem was the fact that they were trying to fix my pain rather than acknowledging it. They were trying to offer me solutions or make me look on the bright side ‘look now you are free and single and you can travel’. They were making plans for me, ‘move back to your mum’, ‘find a job dealing with the public’ etc.  

What happened is that I lashed out, became angry felt like there was something wrong with me because after a week I was unable to make long term plans. And after three weeks I was still crying. What a failure I was. And I lashed out and was rude to genuinely good people therefore I felt guilty as well.  I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was selfish and a bit mad, that the only person who could tolerate me had gone and  I couldn’t do what all these lovely people were telling me to do. I didn’t appreciate what all these lovely people thought would be good for me. It’s only after I talked to other bereaved people that I realised I wasn’t abnormal at all. 

I might travel one day, it’s extremely unlikely that I will move back to my mother’s, but whatever I decide to do will be my decision, when I think it’s the right time. What bereaved people have to understand first if they still want to go on or they want to give up. Yes, another elephant in the room, but basically every bereaved person I spoke to have wanted to die. They might not go to Beachy Head and throw themselves in the Channel but they might drink too much, stop eating properly or hope not to wake up in the morning.

That’s the reality but it’s also a taboo subject, as soon as you mention something like that,  ‘normal’ people will start saying but ‘you have so many reasons to live for’ ‘ you could travel’ ‘you could live in the Caribbeans’, ‘you could study or learn another language’.  Without acknowledging that at this very point of time none of these things look appealing at all to the person who hopes not to wake up in the morning. The person who still hopes this is all a nightmare and will wake up any minute now  is not interested in learning Swahili or Polish, sorry. 

Again, most of us bereaved people will wake up every morning, get up and eventually do things. We might even study Swahili and travel the world, but it will be when we are ready to do so. I was told some of these things a day after my husband’s death. One day. 

What people need to understand is that we need TIME to grieve, time to be sad, time to cry and time to be completely distraught. They have to be  there for us, without judging us and trying to fix the unfixable. It would just make us feel  less misunderstood and lonely if people just let us be sad and a bit deranged for a while.

As this video explains  so well

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