There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Comment on Grief

Sunday, hubby and I attended a christening. My distaste for and mistrust of anything Christian aside, the day was… upsetting. More so than either of us expected. It was the kind of experience that you know going into it will be difficult, so you brace for the things that you know are likely to upset you. There are going to be infants there. You’re probably going to have to endure unintentional jabs at your failure to give life to a healthy baby. You’re going to see the almost two-year old who was born ten days before your own child, and you should probably do your best to not look at him with tears in your eyes.

But as we pulled up in the parking lot, I realized that the day was going to be a much bigger challenge than I could have prepared for. This was my first time being back in a Catholic chapel since the day we buried Eevee, and I hadn’t anticipated the flippant rage that rushed up to the surface. Every tiny little thing tested my fragile composure, so that by the time the ceremony had concluded, I literally bolted for the door and walked blindly through the parking lot, just trying to breathe. Hubby wasn’t in any better shape, either.

It took us some time, but we eventually rallied for the early dinner that followed. “We can go to the dinner, if you want,” I told him. “The hard part is over now.” Yeah… Sometimes I’m not very smart. If the ceremony had been uncomfortable in air, the dinner took that to a whole new level.

We’ve been hit and miss with family gatherings since Eevee, so when we’re there, the usual observation goes along the line of, “Hey, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you guys! How have you been?” Most of the more pointed “how have you been” questions have stopped at this point, but the nature of the get together seemed to create the impression that we were looking for everyone’s unsolicited advice.

It’s fair to say that when most people touch on grief, they’re being genuine in their concern, but that doesn’t give anyone free license to just say anything. If you empathize with someone’s suffering, approach them with care – never touch them without permission or unless you know them really well. It can be difficult to know what to say, so when in doubt, stick to the basics. “I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “I’m here if you ever need someone to talk to.” “I’m thinking about you.” People like to say, “Is there anything I can do for you?” but I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you are actually able to follow through with anything that might be asked. Especially when grief is new, even small rejections are enough to cause breakdowns and panic attacks.

Under no circumstance should you say things like, “You’re young, there’s still time!” “God had a reason,” or “I had miscarriages when I was young, so I understand. But you know what? You have to move on. It’s past time you moved on.”

I and every other grieving parent out there are so exhausted from having to defend our right to grieve, our right to mourn the loss of a child without being forced to smile at remarks that devalue the life that was so briefly here. So please, guys, be gentle with your own friends and family when dealing with a loss.

And finally, to make this somewhat writing-related, here’s an article I wrote up not long ago about writing grieving characters.

Peace, guys. ❤


6 thoughts on “There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Comment on Grief

  1. The “God had a reason” comment has to be the most insensitive comment I’ve ever heard. How in the heck is that supposed to be comforting? Honestly, in this setting, I can’t imagine why anyone felt they had a reason to make any of these comments at all unless you brought the subject up. Of course you’re still grieving, but I would think that commenting on it months later is like getting the scabs pulled off a grievous wound. You’re right in that people may mean well, though. And it’s difficult for them to be sensitive to your pain when they haven’t had such an experience themselves.

    • A lot of it just comes down to people not understanding. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can appreciate that they’ve been thinking about us while almost always disregarding their actual words. This usually results in a fairly awkward close to any conversation, because they keep talking and I just stare at them, not really acknowledging what they’re saying. It’s exhausting trying to educate people who do say these things, on top of everything else. Which usually means that I don’t bother, which of course only allows the cycle to continue.

    • I hate to say it, but the cycle will continue indefinitely for as long as the human race continues to exist. It’s impossible to educate everyone on such matters. Most everyone has had some sort of tragedy that would be difficult for others to comprehend. As people, we should try to be understanding and sensitive to others, but it’s impossible for us to understand every aspect and to know what the right thing to say to one person is vs the right thing to another. Not only would it be impossible, it would be exhausting.

  2. People want to say something to those who are grieving, but many times they don’t realize that what they say has the opposite effect and is ignorant or insulting instead of comforting. Just being there for the grieving person is more important than giving out platitudes or talking just for the sake of talking.

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