Grief and Loss: What To Say

Grief and Loss


Watching and supporting a family member or beloved friend experience grief and loss can be difficult.  I know firsthand.  Two people I adore and love are experiencing painful losses, and there have been many times that I wanted to do something to help them, but all I can offer is a listening ear.

There are times we want to help but we don’t want to intrude.  We are at a loss of what to say and unsure of what to do.  Sometimes we do nothing at all because we don’t want to make things worse.   Although we will not be able to take the pain away, we can still listen.  It’s okay to ask them, “do you want to talk?”  If they don’t want to talk, they will let you know.  When you get into those conversations, be sure to avoid responding with these comments:

Instead of “I know” or “I understand” try asking, “how has this been for you?”

The reality is grief and loss is different for every person so you don’t know or understand their unique experience.

Instead of “You must feel _______” try asking, “how do you feel?” or “most people have strong feelings, how has this been for you?”

It’s never helpful to tell people how they feel in any life experiences; this holds true for those experiencing the pain of loss.  Grief is personal and belongs to them.  They may feel a lot of different emotions at one time.  Allow them to name their own feelings.

Instead of “He’s no longer in pain, he’s in a better place”, or “it’s part of God’s plan” try asking, “what memories do you have about___?”  or “what have you been thinking?”

If you try to help them to focus on the good things, it doesn’t allow them to stand in their truth – they are hurting!  Allow them to express their true feelings whatever they may be

Instead of “You should or must get on with your life” try asking, “Have you thought about….?”

First, there are no must’s and should’s in grief.  Second, it’s not your job to solve it.  In fact, you aren’t going to be able to fix it.  Grief is a process and takes time.  If you are concerned for their emotional and mental health, you may try starting with, “have you thought about or considered…?”  In this way, you aren’t telling them what to do; you are only exploring options.

December Grieving Time

December Grieving Time

December can be a time of grieving.  For many people the holiday is a time of fun festive parties and family get-togethers. For others it brings relentless reminders of people they loved that have passed away.   When it’s the first Christmas without their loved one, they think of how the experience would be better if their loved one was with them.

I have a close friend whose loved one was very sick this time last year. She spent the most of the month of December at his bedside hoping he would recover.   He passed away a few days after the New Year.   It’s safe to say she did not ring in the New Year with joy and laughter.

If a loved one died in the month of December or soon after this time of year can be very hard.   Even if they are bringing the mood of the season down, don’t call them a “Scourge” or a “Grinch.”   Remember that both of those characters were hurting people, they had losses and had pain that caused them to want to spread it.   Hopefully the people that you know who are emotionally hurting during the holidays aren’t trying to hurt or ruin the joyful times for others. But if they are try to respond in love instead of anger.  If that’s doesn’t work there are trained grief counselors that could help them, try suggesting this to them. Those of us that have not had to grieve during the month of December need to remember that not everyone is having a “Holly Jolly Christmas.”   The best gift you can give them is your understanding.

Book review: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner

griefHarold S. Kushner, the author of this book, is a rabbi who had a son diagnosed with Progeria as a child and died shortly after his fourteenth birthday. Kushner struggled with the idea of believing in an all-powerful but fair God that allowed such tragedy to befall his family. After all, he was a rabbi who spent his life serving others in devotion to God. Kushner wrote this book to share his experience with others.

Kushner used several personal anecdotes to describe how different people deal with tragedy depending on their views of God. Particularly, he used examples of how people comfort friends and family members who might have experienced an accident or loss of a loved one. Some may try to comfort their friend by saying that God has a plan and purpose for everything. Kushner points out that this view is often hard for someone struck by tragedy to believe. How is it in God’s plan to take a young child from the mother? How is in God’s plan for me to never walk again? Sometimes it seems like the price we pay is so high to get to God’s plan. Other’s may say that God never gives us anything more than we can handle, but that makes it seem to the widow that her husband was killed because she was strong enough to bear it. Another view may be that the world is chaos and God is simply here to help us through life. People who have this belief turn to God in moments of grief in order to find strength.

Kushner had so many thought provoking ideas. For example, he discussed his idea on creation. What if in the scheme of God creating the world in six days we were really just on the fourth day and God was still working all of the chaos around us into His order? I had not really thought about thought about how our view of God influences how we deal with tragedy. Kushner really made me think about all of the facets of grief and how it related to God’s plan and power. He also made me really contemplate his views in mass tragedies as well as his thoughts on what heaven might be like. How is it possible that a plane crashes and kills hundreds that it was just “time” for ALL of those people? If someone loses the ability to walk in this life, in heaven will they regain that ability? I can understand how someone can become angry with God after he or she has experienced a personal tragedy. This book discusses some of the hardest questions we ask of God when we face hard times. It also brings to light to a lot of ideas to consider about God’s role in tragedy and how to maintain our faith despite it all.