What not to do when someone is grieving?
We have had a lot of deaths that impact this community recently- both public figures and personal losses that impact the community in a widening ripple. We have had tragic accidents, suicides, and overdoses, in addition to the well-known celebrities with stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Many of those deaths seem to invite comment in public forums, especially social media. The comments made in those forums have an impact- social media, texts, and email has more power than any of us really want to admit.
So, what should we not do after a death?
How do we make sure our reaction does not make someone’s grief harder or make them feel that they can’t talk about their loss? How do we make sure our teens can talk about suicide issues without feeling judged? Here are some strong suggestions from a therapist who specializes in recovering from loss:
Watch your use of common phrases
- Don’t tell someone that their loved one is in a better place; don’t assume the griever has a faith tradition, or that they are particularly fond of God or anyone else following the loss of their loved one; don’t ask why they are still grieving – grief is its own process for each person. When they are grieving nobody wants to hear they should be happy or relieved- even if they are in some way.
- Don’t use the death to make political statements or to judge the person who died. Overdoses are a tragedy, not a way to lecture others about drug use and what it does. The death makes it clear what can happen. The survivors need support, not to feel that they can’t talk about them without harsh words being the response.
- Don’t say anything negative about the person who died. That belongs to the immediate survivors, should they choose to share those thoughts.
- Please do not discuss the manner of death in a judgmental way. Suicide is a tragedy, not a selfish act inflicted upon the survivors. It follows after much struggle, and you cannot understand the thought process of the person who made that decision. Don’t judge them for it. Don’t make the survivors feel guilty. They have enough to cope with.
- Don’t feel a need to fill in the silences. The very best thing you can do for a person who has had a loss is to hold space for them. Just be there. Words are unnecessary, and often get in the way.
- Don’t stop saying the loved one’s name- survivors need to know they counted, and still do. The loss does not end with the funeral.
Just today there was a new public celebrity death. (Chester Bennington of Lincoln Park Fame) The comments are already starting. Think before you join them. This is an opportunity to provide support in your own circle, and to make a positive impact at a difficult time.
If you need more assistance Jill Johnson-Young, LCSW is a grief recovery specialist.
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