What to say to a grieving person
For most people, attending a visitation and Funeral is difficult, and whilst each funeral is different, i.e. some are more devastating as a result of the circumstances surrounding the death, whatever the circumstances and age of the person who has died, the family are grieving a loss. Their lives changed forever as they now prepare to say goodbye and start their journey and path of mourning.
Supporting the family
Attending a visitation and the funeral are the most important ways to support a family in the midst of their devastation and pain. It is the opportunity to show your respect and express your sorrow for the family. Families appreciate the effort, feel the support and sympathy that family members, friends and neighbours offer.
Lest we forget
The visitation and funeral for most families, will never be forgotten, saying goodbye and travelling the final journey to your loved one’s final resting place is one of the worst days in your life and a day that will be remembered forever. I can still recall twenty years later the wakes and funerals of many of my loved ones. Unfortunately, I also recall thinking to myself about what some of the visitors had said during that time. I remember thinking; “how could you make such an insensitive and hurtful comment.” It is amazing how the brain concentrates on the negative, I know that I heard more positive and uplifting stories that made me proud, but when your grieving, negative and inappropriate comments can be magnified in our vulnerability and some comments stay with us.
Why words matter
Our words and actions communicate, express and transfer our emotions and feelings, they convey our message of sympathy at a time when a family is completely exposed and vulnerable in their grief. What we say and do has the ability to comfort, devastate and in some cases traumatize a person when they are at their lowest. I have written this article as a result of studying Coaching at End of Life, it is one of the topics we have discussed which brought back memories of negative comments I remember hearing all those years ago. As a result, I decided to ask the question which I posted on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter as follows;
What is the worst/best thing you have heard someone say to a grieving person at a wake/visitation or funeral?
Below are the responses received:
“Don’t worry you will soon get over it”
“It was for the best.”
“I know how you are feeling.”
“He looked better his coffin than he ‘s looked for years!
“You’ll be better after the funeral when you can get back to normal.”
“Don’t worry dear things will get better with time.”
“I’m sorry, but your Mom didn’t have enough faith to live any longer.”
“His money and house aren’t much good to him now.”
“You’ll have more children.”
“At least you have children.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll not be on your own for too long.”
“God takes only the best, God needed him for a job in heaven.”
“You think this is bad, my situation was so much worse, at least you didn’t have to nurse him, he went quickly.”
“A heart attack is the best way to go, that’s the way I want to go.”
“Pull yourself together, you have to been strong.”
“At least she is out of her suffering.”
“Your young enough to have more children.”
“It was his time to go you will be together again soon.”
“It is all a part of God’s plan.” It’s God’s will and you can’t argue with that.”
“It’s happy for them.”
“At least you won’t have the burden of looking after him now.”
“God needed an Angel.”
“Don’t be sad, he gets to be with Jesus on his birthday, how awesome is that?”
“You can still make peanut butter sandwiches at midnight.”
“Sure they lived a long life, what more could you ask for.”
“You’ll meet someone else.”
“You’ll just have to pull yourself together and be strong for your children, at least you have children.”
“I know exactly how you feel, I lost my dog a few months ago.”
“It will take four long hard years before you get over this.”
“Best on to dwell on it, that’s life, we live and we die.”
“God only gives you what you can handle”.
“She looks better than she did the last time I saw her”.
Comments made after the funeral some weeks and months later.
“Did I hear your husband died? I can’t remember.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t at the wake or funeral, it was our anniversary and were on holiday, I’d die if my husband died”.
“Hi Loretta, everything back to normal now”?
“Oh yeah, your daddy died, didn’t he, sorry to hear that.”
“There are just no words”. Offer a hug were appropriate.
“My deepest sympathy, I am here for you if you want to talk.”
“My Condolences to you and your Family.”
“I am here for you if you ever need someone to just listen.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“There are now words, just know we are all thinking and praying for you”.
“Take YOUR time, there is no time limit on grieving.”
The impact of our words?
We live in a world where common sense, “isn’t very common,” a society where there are so many different beliefs and perspectives about death and grief as a result of; religious affiliations, cultures and traditions. The fact is our beliefs about death and dying depend on so many factors and how we deal and cope with loss is very personal. It is important to find a way of letting go any comments made at that time.
How to forgive and forget?
I believe that for the most part, people are genuine in their attempt to comfort the grieving person albeit the list above suggests otherwise. I truly believe that most people are embarrassed and at a loss when it comes to comforting families, some of the responses above certainly make the casethat some people just “Don’t think.”
I also believe that people who make insensitive, hurtful and unimaginable remarks fall under three categories I define as; The 3i’s; The ignorant, the insensitive and the idiot
- lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned: an ignorant man.
- lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact: ignorant of quantum physics.
- uninformed; unaware.
- due to or showing lack of knowledge or training: an ignorant statement.
We have to forgive and forget the comments made by people who have never experienced loss, those people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. They feel that they have to say something and usually end up putting their foot in their mouth.
Forgive them they know not what they do and say.
- deficient in human sensibility, acuteness of feeling, or consideration; unfeeling; : an insensitive person.
- not physically sensitive: insensitive skin.
I am sure you have met people who are completely devoid of sensitivity, they come out with things that are absolutely inappropriate and look at you as if to say, “what did I say wrong?” It seems that they simply have no capacity to empathize.
Forgive them, they know not what they do.
- Informal. an utterly foolish or senseless person: If you think you can wear that outfit to a job interview and get hired, you’re an idiot!
- Psychology . (no longer in technical use; considered offensive) a person of the lowest order in a former and discarded classification of mental retardation, having a mental age of less than three years old and an intelligence quotient under 25
You probably also recognize the idiot, that person who you know is an idiot from the first time they open their mouth.
Forgive them, they know not what they do.
Coping with the loss of a significant person in your life is hard enough without taking on the burden of carrying anger and feeling pain associated with comments made from people who are simply; ignorant, insensitive or idiots. If you forgive those comments, you will serve yourself well in the knowledge that “they know not what they do.”
I wish our Funeral Directors had explained this to us when we were making arrangements, if they had I would probably have attributed the negative remarks to the above categories of people and their comments would have gone in one ear and out the other.
If you have any tips and suggestions when dealing with negative comments, please share them and help others who cannot let go of anger and hurt.