I am so guilty of saying #1 and #4!
by Nikki Pennington | Staff Writer for The Snap Mom
July 21st, 2011 is the day my world froze; the day it forever stood still. Anyone that has suffered a loss knows that right after the news, you have to make a very important choice. At the time, I did not realize it would be so crucial: choosing the right people to call when you are in the fog of shock. I remember a phone call to a close friend the day my mom passed. I cried for a few minutes, and then she quickly informed me she was on a family vacation and would need to call me when she returned. That phone call would never come nor would a mention of my grave loss. Then there was the close friend that sent me text messages a month after my loss telling me what a “selfish person” I was, informing me that I “always backed out and cancelled plans.” Or the friend that said “at least you still have your mother-in-law.” I will never forget that hurt. I suddenly went from grieving the loss of my mother to grieving the loss of friendships over hurtful comments.
My grief began when my mom became terminal, it changed me, and my priorities changed. I focused on helping my mom and spending time with family making final memories and that left no time for friends. It was a time in my life when being a friend was the last thing on my mind. My grief caused me to feel like making plans one minute and then next backing out because I wasn’t sure if I could be in public or around anyone without bursting into tears. After she passed I still cancelled, backed out, and never called- not out of selfishness, but because my grief had consumed me. I needed them to be there and carry the friendship 100% because I was unable to. I needed them to wait for me until I was ready to be me again. I also needed them to understand that I may never be the same friend I was before the loss; it changed me.
Now having been on this grief journey for three years, looking back I realized I encountered several friends that said phrases that caused me more grief because they did not understand. I have put together a list of five things not to say to someone who is grieving.
1. “What can I do for you?”
In my grief, I barely know what day or time it is, much less if something needs to be done. Do not ask me, just do. Have a meal delivered to my house, stop by just to check in with me or send me a care package in the mail.
2. “Sorry for your loss.”
Please do not be scared to say his or her name. I want you to say “I am sorry for the loss of your mom,” or “I am sorry for the loss of _____.” Even though I am grieving, I want to hear her name, it helps me feel like she is still here. Also, please remember I lost a person, not a material thing, and she had a name.
3. “I will pray for you.”
Prayer is such a serious thing, especially to most grievers. Please do not use this as a conversational filler. Instead, stop whatever you are doing right then and there, and pray with me. I promise you this will mean so much more.
4. “He or she is in a better place.”
I recall hearing this one by text message the day my mom passed. I was filled with anger. Eventually, I will come out of this fog of grief and realize that in fact she is in a better place. As for right now in my early grief, the best place she could be is right here with me. Here to see her grandchildren, here to give me a hug, here to tell me she loves me, just here to simply hold my hand.
5. “I avoided you because I was scared.”
Grief is not contagious, I promise you won’t catch it by being around me. If I see you in public and you dart the other way or you avoid answering the phone when I call out of fear that you might say the wrong thing. I can assure you avoiding me and saying nothing is so much worse. Give me a hug or simply say “I am here for you.”
In the end, we can all be honest and say we have been on both ends of the fence, the griever and the offender. Let’s remember that grief is a messy and complicated thing especially for those that do not know what to say. Grief requires us to handle our words with grace, love and understanding before speaking to the griever. Any comments or phrases you would add to this list? Share them with us!
Nikki is a stay at home mom to three high spirited boys. Three years ago she became a motherless daughter after losing her own mom to terminal brain cancer. When she is not playing the role of referee for the boys, she spends her days trying to encourage and inspire others that are on the grief journey.