After reading and hearing countless comments about the death of Robin Williams, once again it’s clear that a great lack of understanding surrounds grief, loss, and related issues. Even though the intent of most people is to provide comfort and support, they can inadvertently say something that’s hurtful or damaging.
It’s a good idea to briefly pause and think twice before you speak to someone who is grieving or make judgment calls about someone who has died.
Before you speak, pause and think twice, not just once. Keep in mind that you have not walked in someone else’s shoes. You may think you know something that you really know nothing about. You cannot get inside someone else’s head and it’s impossible to know another person’s reality.
Anyone who has faced profound grief is aware of the senseless, hurtful comments that folks sometimes make in an effort to be supportive, i.e., ‘You’ll meet someone else,’ ‘She’s better off now,’ ‘Suicide is selfish,’ ‘You’re lucky that you have other children,’ etc. As a word of caution, if you’re unsure about what to say, and even if you think you know what to say—most of the time, it’s better to say less. Certainly, you want to avoid pronouncing judgment about someone else’s actions and avoid giving advice to another person about the way they are grieving. Let the person know you care and that you’re sorry for their loss. And stop there.
Grief is a sorely misunderstood subject, particularly by those who have never come face-to-face with deep grief in their own lives. Grief cannot be understood from afar. You must experience it to truly understand what grief is really like.
As for suicide and mental illness – these are subjects that are understood even less than grief and other types of loss. Grief is a topic we seldom discuss; yet suicide and mental illness are rarely discussed – until a noteworthy occurrence brings the subjects to the forefront. We quickly see how little we know by the rash, thoughtless comments people make.
Profound grief is deeply and utterly painful. And everyone has the right to grieve in his or her own way and time. Grief is extremely personal; every situation and each person is unique; and what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. Yes, there are things associated with grief that people commonly go through, however, each person’s experience is uniquely his or her own. Blanket generalities are inaccurate and unhelpful.
So … when someone you know is grieving – love them. Offer support where you can. Stay in touch. Nurture your connection with them. Reach out. Be understanding. Offer to listen. But don’t tell them how to grieve. And don’t make judgments.
Your greatest gift to someone who is grieving is to make sure they know you care and that you’re ready to listen. Encourage them to let you know how you can best help them – and then follow through.
© 2014 Judy Brizendine
Photo – © Fotofrenze
- Suicide and Choice by Jean-Daniel
- About Suicide by Mirabai Galashan
- Learning What Grief Is Not Will Help Mourners and Caregivers by Larry Barber
- What Is the Widespread Misunderstanding about Grief? by Judy Brizendine
- Common Myths and Misconceptions about Grief by Marty Tousley
- Loneliness and Solitude in Grief by Marty Tousley