Did you know that there is absolutely no one in this world that knows everything there is to know about grief?
Not a single scientist, educator or physician clearly understands all aspects of what it means to grieve, nor do they know with 100 percent clarity how grief is displayed across the board because we simply cannot generalize grief.
Why? Because we all grieve differently, and even though there are similarities and even though we have books, studies and lectures on how it is evidenced, we are still hard pressed to understand something that touches each and every one of us in our lifetimes.
With that said, and because we know this, it becomes extremely important to watch what we say to others in their bereavement time. Though we may think we are saying the right things or that we are being comforting with our words, oftentimes the person who is experiencing the heartbreak of loss feels judged by those around them (and yes, this includes close family and friends).
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that one faces while grieving is to come to terms with their loss and give themselves permission to grieve the best way they know how. This isn’t always easy because it seems that society likes to step in and tell others what they should or shouldn’t be do or how they should be doing it. As one would guess, this can cause confusion, uncertainty, hopelessness and, in a lot of cases, intense anger.
Consider your words
Let’s break it down, the ever popular saying “I know how you feel.” Do you? I mean, seriously, do you really know how someone feels in their pain and suffering? Simply stated, the answer is a resounding no.
We cannot presume that we understand what someone is going through, and, most importantly, we have to examine the likelihood of how saying something along these lines might push someone away from us or intensify the pain that they are currently feeling.
Case in point. Approaching a parent who has lost a child and telling them that “you know how they feel because your uncle died two years ago” is simply not the same. Now, this is not discounting the loss because, again, loss is individualized and the level of heartbreak is unique to that person. But we have to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture at times.
Kudos to those who stay present during one’s grief journey and don’t disappear because they don’t know what to say or what to do. Yes, you may say something that doesn’t come across as being very supportive, but the person who is grieving (most of the time) understands that you were only trying to help.
What they have a harder time processing is when they are informed that they are not grieving appropriately, or they are made to feel as if something is wrong with them. Just to reiterate: crying, the inability to focus, irrational thoughts, sleeplessness, irritability and lack of motivation to engage in once loved activities or interact with people are all normal aspects of bereavement.
Please consider your words in supporting those experiencing loss because grieving is hard enough as it is without having to navigate through others expectations of how we should be doing and when we should be doing it.
In other words, ditch being the judge and jury and instead choose to walk alongside someone and truly listen to their needs. In doing this, the reward will be great, and the healing will be even greater.
Jenny Filush-Glaze is a licensed counselor and owner of Serenity Community Counseling LLC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.