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Reactions From Others...

Many bereaved individuals have had the experience of hearing comments from family members or acquaintances that they should be grieving differently, that somehow they should be “getting over it by now.” Let us explore this experience a little further…

If you are like many bereaved individuals, during your period of grief you have heard comments that were hurtful to you. These comments may have come from those closest to you, such as from family members, close friends, acquaintances, or they may have come from persons that are more distant to you. Comments, words simply spoken, though usually in times of grief intended to be supportive, are frequently experienced as judgmental and emotionally painful. Words can rub like sandpaper on an open sore.

For example, comments such as “Life goes on” or “You can’t live in the past,” or “You must get on with your life” are usually extremely hurtful to a person in mourning. Now, it is often the case that the person making such comments believes that they are indeed being helpful. After all, they reason, these remarks do contain some truth. We would acknowledge that yes, life does move forward, even as we are in intense pain and yearn for nothing but the presence of our deceased loved one. As experienced by someone who is mourning the death of a loved one however, the message that such comments send is anything but helpful, for these comments basically communicate the message “stop grieving,” or, “stop grieving so openly.” And when such comments are uttered by those closest to us, those whom we most need to be supportive of us during our times of suffering and pain, it can feel devastating. It can seem as if even these people, those most dear to us, do not understand us. How could they say such things? When we are grieving we are likely to doubt ourselves and the grief reactions that we are experiencing to begin with, and how hard it can be to feel additionally misunderstood by others. Or take the comment, “he's in a better place now.” Well, who is to say? It doesn’t feel to us that our loved one is “in a better place now” when we are torn with grief. We miss our loved one, and we want nothing more than to be in their presence again. One of the main problems with such comments is that they invalidate the experience of the bereaved person. Instead of feeling comforted and understood, bereaved individuals may feel even more isolated and utterly alone in their grief. Such comments can cut the feet out from under us. And if you are the one who can think of nothing else but your deceased loved one, if you ache with loneliness, if you feel guilt for things you did (or didn't do), well these feelings are very real. They are a part of your daily life – they are your grief. They rise up from deep inside of you. So how dare somebody tell me how I “should be” feeling or acting!

I would say that when others utter comments that are hurtful to you, it may be helpful in that moment to try to remember that the other person is probably just trying to help, and that you need not allow those words to stick like a thorn in your side. In the final analysis, we all have a choice about how we react to the circumstances that we face in the world. In these situations then one can choose to understand that yes, surely others would like for me to be feeling better (i.e., in less pain), yet that right now, the pain that I am feeling is appropriate given the loss that I am attempting to deal with. We can say to ourselves that we need not “buy into” the views of others. These thoughts can be very hard to keep in mind when we are under all of the added strain that grief places upon us, yet distancing yourself from the less than supportive comments from others can allow you to honor your own grief process. You are the expert in your own life, and your grief is unique to you and must be accepted as such.

If you happen to find yourself in the position of trying to support a bereaved and hurting person, perhaps one of the most helpful things that you can do is to think before you speak. Think about how your remark may be interpreted by a person who is in mourning, and think also about how you might respond to the remark you are about to make if you were in the position of being that bereaved person. Imagine for a moment that the person that you are closest to in this world has died recently. How might you feel then? And what types of comments might you find helpful, or hurtful? It is a challenge to communicate our caring to those that we love when they are in mourning. Our society simply has not equipped us well to deal with grief or loss. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply say nothing, and let your eyes and your caring presence carry the message of your concern and the message that you empathize deeply with the person before you. Words can certainly help, yet they can also hurt…

Grief Counselor, Dr. Steven Bailley
Grief Counselor
The purpose of these articles is to provide interested readers with information and thoughts about loss, grief, mourning, and grief counseling. A variety of grief-related topics have been covered. It is my sincerest hope that you will find the information presented here to be of interest and assistance to you. If there are specific topics of interest that you would like to see added in the future, I welcome you to email me with your suggestions. If you have a need to talk with me, please call me at my office at (713) 914-9944.
Collection of papers and articles on grief, and coping with grief
The need to express our grief… Grief is Different For Each of Us The emotions of grief: Guilt
Grief, Mourning and Grief Counseling The Experience of Grief The Emotions of Grief: Anger
Reactions from others… The Seasons of My Heart The emotions of grief: “I feel like I’ve lost control of myself.”
The Closeness of Mortality Ambivalence
A 'Grief Journal' Grief After Suicide
Research and clinical experience support the idea that many bereaved individuals gain benefit from grief counseling. Ideally, counseling can help people to cope as adaptively as possible during difficult times that follow a loss, and can also assist in bringing grief to a more adequate resolution. Should you decide to explore the possibility of seeking professional assistance, at any time following your loss, I welcome you to contact me to explore this option (appointments and fee schedule are available upon request). Every person is unique, and I will work with you to assist you in coping with your specific needs. At this most difficult time in your life, I wish to extend to you my sincerest condolences for your loss.

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