Throughout each of our lives, we will be encountered with friends, family members, or co-workers who have faced or are being faced with the loss of a loved one. Naturally, we want to say something to this individual to help them "feel better" during this tough situation. The reality is, we cannot - and will not - be able to take their pain away, nor should we try. Here are seven things NOT to say when supporting someone experiencing a difficult time in their life.
1. I Know How You Feel
Do you? Do you know exactly how someone is feeling? Even if you have been through the exact same situation, at the same time of year, with the same exact circumstances, you do not know how they feel - nor do they want to hear that. Their feelings or reactions may be very different from what you experienced. Instead, you can say, "This seems to be very difficult for you. I'm so sorry."
2. Don't Feel...
Have you ever said something you didn't mean, and after apologizing someone said, "Don't feel bad." Did that help you? Most likely not. Someone experiencing a loss, or difficult situation doesn't need to be told how to feel. They need their friends and family to support them no matter how they feel and they also need to know that what they are feeling is perfectly normal. We are all human beings, and we have different feelings to different situations... None of which are wrong.
3. It Will Be Better Tomorrow
When supporting someone who is experiencing a loss, it’s important to focus on the “here and now” and avoid cheerleading, or being that “positive voice.” We do not know if it will be better tomorrow, and it most likely will not be. Setting up false hope for someone can be devastating to them. Their journey through grief and mourning is like a roller-coaster. Some days will be better than others – but some days will be much worse than others.
4. Life Goes On
For you, life may go on. For them, they are now forced to find a new normal without their loved one. Their life will indeed “go on” but it will never be the same. Saying something like “life goes on” minimizes their situation and can impose guilt or more heartache. Allow that person to take time in finding their new normal.
5. Call Me If You Need Me
If you say this to someone grieving, you can count on them not calling. They do not want to be a nuisance nor do they really know what they ‘need’ in their current situation. Try another route, say, “Is it okay if I call you at 6:00p.m., tonight?” or “Can I bring you dinner tomorrow?” The trick is, you want to support the person without being overbearing. Suggest helping with little tasks but do not be offended if the person says no. Be willing to follow their lead and let them remain in control of their situation.
6. It Was Part of God’s Plan
A mother does not want to hear that the death of her child was a part of God’s plan, or that her husband was supposed to die in a car accident. You may believe that it is part of God’s plan, and they may eventually believe that if they have a faith in a higher-power; however, in the aftermath of a tragedy, that is a hurtful statement that will not provide comfort. Their focus is that their loved one is no longer with them.
7. You Don’t Want to Do That
The most important lesson in all of this, and in supporting someone who has experienced a loss is that everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to handle a situation with the exception that the individual is threating to harm themselves, someone else, or property. Even if you do not agree with one’s course of action – put your personal beliefs, thoughts, and practices aside to support them. It’s their tragedy – not yours.
The bottom line: We have all said things like this, and it does not make us a bad person. When supporting someone suffering a loss, if you do not know what to say, then say nothing. Your presence alone is enough to let the person know you care and will care throughout their journey.
Find more helpful resources here.
About the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) of Southern Nevada, Inc. The Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) of Southern Nevada, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that those who are emotionally traumatized in emergency situations receive the assistance they need. To accomplish that goal, TIP works closely with local communities to establish emergency services volunteer programs. In these programs, well-trained citizen volunteers are called to emergency scenes to assist family members, witnesses, and other bystanders directly on-scene, during the investigation. Click here for more information.