Pause and Think Twice Before You Speak to Someone Who Is Grieving

Red Stop Sign_Pause Before Speak to GrieversBy Judy Brizendine

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

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4 Responses to “Pause and Think Twice Before You Speak to Someone Who Is Grieving”

  1. Such an important message to share, Judy! Blessings to you, and thank you! ♥

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Marty! And thank you for your kind and ongoing support! I respect you tremendously and appreciate all of the wonderful work you do to help folks understand and face grief.
      Blessings to you,

  2. Robin Botie says:

    Thank you, Judy. I wish I could ZAP this message into everyone I encounter who thinks grief is something to get over in a set amount of time or get through in a prescribed way. I believe in growing into one’s grief and allowing that grief to grow into grace in one’s own way and time. And your words remind me that the best I can do is offer my ears and my heart. Cheers!

    • admin says:

      Yes, Robin, me too! As I’ve always said, unless you’ve been through a profound grief experience, you have no way to understand. That’s where most people are coming from, I’m afraid, and that’s why they say things that are so far off base. I too believe that we must grow into our grief and allow that experience to develop and change us individually and in our own time.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. Your insights bless me every time I see one of your posts!!