We know they mean well. They are good people, maybe good friends or good family. But sometimes… Do you know what I mean? Remember the old Art Linkletter show, “Kids say the darnedest things?” Well, in an emotional situation we sometimes defer to that child within. In a crisis or a tragedy, people say the darnedest things.
People around us remind us, “They’re in a better place.” I had someone tell me she thought that this was happening to me because only I could handle such a tragedy. I wanted to say, “Gee thanks.” People will say, “At least he didn’t suffer,” or “She led a full life.” I always wondered what that one meant.
They tend to ask some pretty stupid questions, too. My favorite is, “So, how are you doing?” I usually say, “Fine,” because if you ask a stupid question… How about, “So do you miss her? Or “How often do you think about him?”
And don’t you love it when they ask how did they die? I want to say he stopped breathing but I don’t have the nerve. And remember, they’re good people, right? They just don’t know what to say.
I admit, I am also guilty of telling people, “I just don’t know what to say.” I’m sure the person was thinking, “Dah, like who does.” Or, “there is nothing I can say” is a stand by. Kind of obvious, right?
What is it about silence that we are so afraid of? Isn’t that one of the great things about night time? The silence? I suppose sometimes the silence can drive us mad. Too much of a good thing, right? But how often do we get to experience real quiet?
It seems we go to extremes to avoid it. The TV is always on, the cell phone is constantly beeping texts, the dishwasher is running, and the ceiling fans are humming. Maybe we think we are in control because we flipped a switch and put something into motion.
But we are not in control. Especially when it comes to other people and what they say. And they may say, “You’re young, you’ll find another.” Or God forbid you should hear, “Don’t worry, you’ll have more.” I bristle when people ask if I have other children, but I know I’m being too sensitive.
When people were in the midst of their grief I thought I gave good advice, like “Stick to your routine.” I’m sure they were thinking, Routine? What’s that?? Or “don’t withdrawal from people.” But people are who scare me the most. I’d say, “Practice forgiveness. Don’t be angry at God. Start exercising, eat your vegetables and oh yea, get plenty of rest.” Great, I’m just trying to survive and you want me to exercise?
Sure, it’s all good stuff but I am surprised no one punched me in the chest. It’s about timing and others are just not on our time schedule. We want to help but we may be impatient if we are not empathetic.
Here’s the classic – “I know what you’re going through.” The only way to make that one worse is to add, “My sister went through the same thing.”
So, what can a person say that’s right? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of options which is probably why we try to avoid grief. No one wants to say the wrong thing. Here are three points to remember:
- What you say is not nearly as important as being there. Woody Allen in Annie Hall said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” He may have been on to something. Think about the people that are there for you. Not just the day of the funeral or the day after but the weeks months and years later. Those people help. It was nothing they said, everything they did.
- Give people a wide berth. Grief is a completely unexpected, novel situation. People are going to say things wrong, out of place, and out of turn. Let them – remember, we can’t control them. Expect it. It’s your chance to show them grace, find the humor in it so you can stay focused on what matters – your grief.
- Recognize you are angry. “Who me? Why the Hell would you say that?” (Opps, I can’t believe what I just heard). Anger is a part of it grief. A BIG part. It’s not just a stage you grow through. It’s an emotion that you continue to deal with. Accept it. Don’t apologize for it, apologize for hostility. Anger is there to let you know you are being threatened and to prepare you to fight.
Make no mistake, you are in a fight but it’s not with those people who are around you. Sometimes, though it’s just easier to fight with the ones who are close.
Graham Nash gave some sage advice in “Teach Your Children Well” when he wrote, “…so just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.”
Sometimes a sigh may be your best defense.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a tragic motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. Look forward to his upcoming posts, quiz, and book, “When Sunday Smiled.” Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about prolonged grief.