What do you say to a bereaved person?

I’ve been asked many times what do you say to someone who has been bereaved, my advice is try not to give them platitudes.  It’s easy to say things that we think will help but can actually be quite hurtful. The following are examples of what not to say to someone who is grieving:

  1. ‘I know how you feel’ -No-one knows how anyone feels because you are not them and you are not in their body or mind. This is a simple statement to make and seems obvious but having empathy or sympathy does not mean you know how they feel.   I would suggest asking: ‘How are you feeling?’ instead. Allow them to express themselves if they choose to and respect the fact that they may not want to.
  2. ‘They are in a better place now’ – This is a contentious statement to make. Everyone has their own personal beliefs on what happens after death but even more than that, the griever wants more than anything to have that person back so this statement can be interpreted to mean that the deceased is better off out of the griever’s life. As an alternative, I would suggest you allow the griever to talk about the deceased and their life together.
  3. ‘You can always have more children’ – the last thing a parent who has lost a child will want to think about is having more children. The mere suggestion that they could have more (and potentially they may not be able to conceive again) is insulting and just about the worst thing you could say to them. To a grieving parent this statement can suggest the child that has died can be replaced. No words can express the depth of grief a parent experiences after the death of a child, the loss of their dreams for that child and their lives together so this statement can be incredibly painful and hurtful. Instead the child should be honoured and memorialised and the kindest thing you can do is to talk about the child.
  4. ‘It gets easier after X months/years’ – please see my earlier blog about the myths of the stages of grief.   The emotions experienced after a death should certainly subside with time but grief is not a linear process and time is relative; it’s a real human experience full of complex emotions, thoughts and changes in identity and roles. Life does change and evolve after a bereavement but stating there is a timeline or that it gets ‘easier’ can undermine the significance of the loss to the bereaved. Instead offer support for as long as they need it in whatever way is needed.
  5. ‘’At least….xxxx’ –This really should be taken out of our vocabulary when speaking to a bereaved person.

These are a few of the most common platitudes said to the bereaved and the reasons why they should’nt be used. There are no ‘right’ words to say and sometimes we all say things we wish we had’nt because we can’t always predict the impact of our words on someone who is feeling intense emotions. Conversely avoiding or ignoring a griever because you don’t know what to say can be equally as hurtful. Genuineness and authenticity should not be underestimated and a simple ‘how are you?’ or ‘is there anything I can do?’ can go a long way to helping a griever.

  • ‘*Update -–I wrote the above blog 8 months ago and today I heard about the death of a baby of someone I’m friendly with.  Sadly this person’s baby was born eight months ago when I wrote this and he brought joy & dreams into this family that are now totally devastated.  This is what I said ‘I have no words to say to you that are adequate…I’m so, so sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you.  I am here for you if you ever want to chat at any time or if I can do anything.’  I will contact this person at regular intervals after the funeral to just ask ‘how are you’ or ‘is there anything I can do?’.  I hope that’s helpful.

#inyourowntime 💙

I’m going to start a campaign and call it In Your Own Time.  Why does society persist in giving timeline expectations of how long we should grieve, or how long it takes for us to ‘get over it’?  What a ridiculous notion that we should ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one. And how absurd that at midnight exactly 6 months after the death, our emotions should turn off- do we have an internal tap to access for that? Wail, cry, sob, laugh, memorialise, yearn or  whatever you want, for as long as you need, and be damned with others’ expectations of you.

Let’s start a revolution to normalise a normal human emotion- #inyourowntime. Vive La Revolution!!

The Anatomy of Grief: Anger

Living With Robyn

Today is not a good day. Today I am blinded by hatred and anger. Today I am upset that this is all I can feel.Today is the first time I’ve come away from a counselling session and felt worse. Working as a therapist I know that sometimes people feel that talking makes things worse. It feels a powerless place to be in when you want to help someone. In that particular moment all you can do is acknowledge the emotions and hope that they will return if and when it feels right and that I can help again.

Today my feelings are about my frustration with myself and this situation, that no one has any answers, that I don’t have the answers. I hate everything and up until now I didn’t ‘hate’ the way I do now.
I hate being so useless & powerless, I hate going to the…

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What on earth do you say to a bereaved mum? It’s simple, STALL

This is the best advice I’ve ever read on how to support and communicate with a grieving parent.

Chasing dragonflies

It can seem like there’s plenty of advice about what not to do when it comes to grief. I’ve written a number of emotional posts about how some people get it ‘wrong’ when talking (or not!) to a beavered parent, such as this one and this one. While my rants are only one element of my complex grief emotion, I am, in the main, very accepting that people can’t be expected to ‘get it right’ all the time when dealing with such a sensitive issue (though I have heard some true howlers!).

But there are times when it’s worth knowing just what bereaved mums like me want from our friends and acquaintances particularly in the early days.

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Welcome

Hello, my name is Caroline, I have been volunteering and working within the world of bereavement and pre-bereavement since 1988 when I experienced my first death.  Since then I have been bereaved many times in many ways and as a ‘Thinking Griever’ have tried to make sense of my own experiences through research, education and training, whilst supporting others too.

I am a bereavement volunteer with a national charity, I facilitate bereavement support groups, I run grief workshops, I am a Trustee for another national charity, deliver training on grief & bereavement, I was commissioned to write a book for JKP on grief and I am researching for a PhD in bereavement.

Please feel free to comment on my posts or if you would  like any further information or signposting please contact me directly & I’ll be happy to help.

Twitter: @TheGriefGeek              Email: Caroline@thegriefgeek.com

Facebook: The Grief Geek           Skype: thegriefgeek

 

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