On Not Comparing Our Stories (Part 2: the practical part)
FIRST: Valentine's Day is just days away. Have you seen our FREE downloadable Valentine cards? Save your money for chocolate of February 15th and print these out for everyone you care about!
If you’ve made it here without reading “Part One” of this series, you may want to go check it out for context.
Ask any survivor (or close supporter of a survivor) and they most likely have a story about the stranger, neighbor, coworker, family member, etc. who made insensitive comments. (i.e. "Feel better soon!" or "But you don't look sick/bad!")
Today we’re getting into the nitty gritty, practical tips on how to respond to someone who has experienced loss.
Why do you want to say something? This isn’t meant to discourage you from acting, but to evaluate that the setting and your own heart intentions are right. It’s not easy to admit, but sometimes we say things to make ourselves feel better without fully considering the wellbeing of the recipient.
What’s the room like? It’s usually best to look for a moment when others aren’t already part of the conversation. Also avoid bringing up their loss right before a potentially stressful moment, like a work meeting, class, etc.
Don’t hide your life from them. Again, this requires discretion, but if they ask about you it’s OK to talk about what is happening, whether it’s awesome or terrible news. The “nobody tells me what is going on anymore” vibe only contributes to feelings of isolation.
Be kind and offer comforting words if it’s appropriate. But please DO NOT:
Start any sentence with “At least…” Of course there are refugees and starving children in the world. See our “Part One” post on comparing grief and loss for why this is unhelpful.
Offer advice. Unless they directly ask you, they are not looking for “what you would do” or think they should do.
Acknowledge their loss. Sometimes naming it can be really hard and brave.
Ask if you can help with a specific task. Take care of a pet, bring over a meal, pick up groceries, or collect mail. Asking “what can I do?” puts the onus of knowing what help is needed on them, and they probably have enough to worry about.
These are basic, general guidelines. Because grief is individual, people respond differently. Just because you’d want to be showered with flowers and meals if you were in that situation does not necessarily mean everyone does. (The opposite is true too!)
Of course, at the end of the day you have to use your best judgment and knowledge of the individual or family. It’s so easy to be paralyzed by not knowing what to say or do, and end up saying nothing. Our hope is that these tips can encourage you to more thoughtful action when you encounter someone you care for who is grieving!