Have you lost a loved one?
If the answer is yes, you’ll understand only too well the amount of upset, pain and stress involved in bereavement.
Death is a fact of life, but it is still something we shy away from discussing, and sometimes we also shy away from those who are bereaved, not knowing what to say or how to act, and as a result we sometimes say things that are inappropriate and downright insensitive, which only adds to their pain.
I’ll give you an example that actually happened to me.
A few days after a much-loved uncle died, I met up with a business client. I’d known this person for about five years. We got on well. They’ve lost family members too, like most of us have. But when I told them my uncle had died, the first thing they said to me was:
‘Does that mean we need to cancel next week’s meeting?’
They were obviously considering the fact I’d need to go to the UK in the near future for the funeral, which was true. But surely it wasn’t so difficult to withhold that comment a little longer and instead say:
‘I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.’
The lack of sensitivity and compassion shocked me, and that thoughtless comment followed me around for the rest of the day and several days after. Their comment had made my upset worse.
It prompted me think about what you should NEVER say to someone who’s recently been bereaved. Here’s my 10-point list:
1. At least they were old/lived a long life.
This doesn’t help because you miss a loved one no matter what age they were when they died.
2. I know how you feel. When my… died, I…
It’s unlikely we know exactly how another person’s pain feels. Each relationship is unique, so you will never know how another person feels about their loss. And see how this comment places all the attention on the speaker and their feelings while ignores the bereaved person’s pain?
3. There’s a reason for everything.
Yes, there is, but now is not the time to say so. Loss, for whatever reason, is painful.
4. Hang on in there – it gets better.
This piece of “advice” is the same as time heals all wounds. Yes, things usually do get better with time, but when you’ve recently been bereaved and all your emotions are raw, you don’t need to hear this remark because at that exact moment you find it hard to imagine ever feeling happy again.
5. We all have to die sometime.
This is stating the obvious and doing so in a very insensitive way, and at completely the wrong time.
6. They’re in heaven/with God/Jesus now.
Many people have no religious beliefs whatsoever. They don’t believe in God or angels or heaven etc. If you’re not sure if the bereaved person is religious or not, don’t impose your beliefs on them.
7. At least they’re at peace now.
This comment is meant to comfort the bereaved person, but it often makes them feel guilty for feeling sad, as if their loss is actually a blessing and not something to be mourned.
8. At least they didn’t suffer
How do you know that for sure? Were you there? And right now it’s the suffering of the bereaved that should concern you.
9. At least you knew it was coming
Knowing a loved one is coming to the end of their life doesn’t make the death easier to deal with. It is still painful.
And last, but not least:
10. Completely ignoring the person’s bereavement and pain
Acting as if nothing has happened, and/or only thinking about how it might affect your own situation (‘Does that mean we need to cancel next week’s meeting?’).
Here’s what you should say to someone who's recently bereaved:
· I’m so sorry to hear about your loss
· I’m so sorry. I wish I had the right words. I just want you to know I care.
· I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you feel right now.
· You are in my thoughts.
· I’m thinking of you at this difficult time and sending you my love.
· I’m here for you.
· I am here to help in any way I can.
Actions are just as powerful – hug the bereaved person. You don’t have to say anything, just be with them. Let them cry.
Ring them up to say how sorry you are – a phone call is far better than just a condolence card, email, text or Facebook message etc. I felt really hurt when a close friend never rang me after my father died, especially as I had rung them in the past when they’d gone through personal crises. It’s so important to pick up the phone and make that call.
Bereavement happens to us all. It’s an unavoidable part of our life and relationships with others – not only with the people we lose and our own bereavement, but also with the people in our lives who are bereaved.
It is a time for thoughtfulness, empathy and kindness. After all, the wrong words can cause a lot of damage, whereas the right words, plus a hug or two, help a sad and heavy heart to begin to heal.