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GRIEF – Some thoughts about what is NOT helpful
Grief and how to help #1
You are in the lounge, having a coffee, after the funeral of a close friend. You see the partner that has been left behind, and through the calm exterior the person is trying to portray, you can see that they are only just holding it together. You want to go over, show your support, and share in the moment, but the waves of your own fear, awkwardness, and inadequacy root you to the spot. You may even think; “It is probably too much today. I will catch up with them later, when it is not so stressful.” However, the link that you may have had with this person, your friend who has died, is gone. “I don’t want to make it worse”, and the ‘later’ may never come. After all you are grieving yourself.
In the next couple of posts, I will share some thoughts on what may be helpful when supporting someone in their grief, but in this post I thought it would be good to share what is NOT helpful. Let’s face it, death is an awkward topic, and it can be difficult to know how to help a grieving person, and this ‘awkwardness’ comes from us not knowing really what to do and say. We want to be sincere, but at the same time we want to get through the interaction as quickly as possible, and may resort to the following:
There is the ‘exhort the person to be strong’ approach;
“The person who died wouldn’t want you to cry.”
“Be Brave. You don’t want the children to see you crying.”
There s the ‘wanting the grieving person to hurry their grief up’ approach;
“Life goes on”
“You’ll get over it”
“Try and look to the future. You’ve got so much ahead of you”
Or the ‘increasing the guilt about how people are grieving’ approach;
“You aren’t counting your blessings”
“He/she lived such a full life”
Or the ‘terrible religious explanation’ approach;
“God never gives you more than you can handle”
“It was God’s will”
And the classic minimisation saying “I know how you feel.” All I am saying is that grief is hard, but necessary. Well meaning, without thoughtfulness, just is not helpful. Sitting and just being with the person, even months after the loss, is better than trying to fill the silence. Words really can be shallow at times. This is the difference between empathy, trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to sympathy, which normally is accompanied by some glib and unhelpful comment. This clip by Brene Brown is perfect in explaining the difference. Or this clip from Pixar’s Inside Out, where the character Sadness, not Joy, is the answer.
In the next blog, I will start to share some concrete ways we can help.
The commentary in this blog is intended to be general in nature. It is just some observations from one fellow traveller in life to another. If anything in this blog raises issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or consult with a trusted medical professional.