***There’s a cheery subject line, right? Well it’s my wall, so today we’re talking about grief. If you know me, you’ll know I’m writing this as a service, not for sympathy. I’ll be really annoyed if that is misunderstood***
Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how people deal with those who they perceive as “grieving” and realized that most of us are really bad at it. When on the receiving end of this, most of us gut through it, then move on without talking about the experience.
Sorry, y’all. This is me. I talk about it. Thought I’d pass on a little advice, as much for myself as for anyone else. I’m not a shrink, just a thick-skinned guy who’s gotten a little too experienced at being on the receiving end of “comfort” in the past year.
A couple thoughts – not a ‘guide to grief’ – just observations:
1. Everyone grieves in their own way. People analyze other people’s method of grieving. Some people wail, some deal with emotions privately, some recount their feelings repeatedly. There isn’t a wrong way to grieve, other than to not do so. Trying to instruct someone how to react or analyze their reaction and make assumptions based on their outward demeanor is just plain wrong.
2. Grieving people like to hear stories about the person they lost. Have a memory, story or reason the deceased meant something to you? Tell it. Especially if it’s funny.
3. Sympathy is awful. The natural reaction is to heap on gooey layers of “I’m so sorry.” It’s sort of icky. It’s a nice sentiment and kind to say. Don’t overdo it. The person is generally pretty aware that the situation is sad.
4. Don’t use someone else’s grief as an opportunity to talk about your own issues. It’s surprising how often the reflex is to “relate” to a grieving person by letting them know you are hurting or have hurt as bad they are. Put simply: They don’t care at that moment.
5. Don’t hang a scarlet G around their neck. It’s normal to feel awkward around a grieving person. That often leads to people treating the person as if they have a disease. Guess what? They’re the same person they were before the death (or or job loss, or pet loss or divorce or whatever they’re grieving). Loss has not become their identity and the worst possible thing is to treat them like they are now defined by something out of their control.
6. If you want to help, offer something concrete. “Let me know if I can do anything.” or “Anything I can do to help?” can come across as insincere, even if 100% sincere. It also puts a burden on the person to ask for things. Offer to do something specific and let the person respond. Oh, and if you want to give them something (flowers, food, etc), doesn’t hurt to say “may I bring you something to eat?” or something like that. You get credit for the sincere offer, and about 9.9 times out of 10 the person will say no (as they stare at a mountain of food and an allergy-garden of flowers), but they’ll appreciate the sentiment.
7. No need to whisper or use euphemisms. Maybe it’s a southern thing, but ‘whispering a bad thing’ instead of saying it out loud or using odd euphemisms when what you mean is “death,” “died” etc. somehow stigmatizes the whole thing. It’s okay – the grieving person knows exactly what’s happened here. You can say it.
8. Don’t try to “shine it up.” There’s not a bright side to loss. Sure, in the case of death, often the deceased is getting a much better deal than the people left behind, but trying to come up with positive things to say – just don’t.
9. Don’t make the situation a generic. Saying things like “It’s sad when a parent dies.” or referring to “the family” in the third person isn’t helpful. It’s that person’s situation, that person and that person’s family.
10. Don’t talk about politics in the receiving line at the funeral home. Yeah. As I stood by my mother’s coffin, greeting people (in one of the worst traditions known to humankind), a dude asked me: “Where you living now?” I told him “New York” He asked “What part of New York?” I answered “The City.” He gave me a long, judgmental look and without humor intended asked “Are you a lib’ral?” So – uh – don’t do that.
By the way, the Biermans are all doing great. We appreciate the love and efforts from all.
Hope this is helpful. Please feel free to add to this. I’ll probably look at it later when I’m the comforter rather than the comfortee.