Many of my friends are aware that I just recently lost a beloved nephew and that’s why I’ve been absent online. During the time that my family and I have been grieving, my friends have truly come through for us in support. That’s been amazing to witness, but there is a downside to this experience, too: sometimes people say and do really thoughtless things. I’ve compiled them here for anyone who may need to hear these words. When I finally got back online to my social media circles, I mentioned that I’d been really hurt by the simple and insensitive words that some people offered and decided to compile them into a list of things NOT to say when a loved one passes away. I hope it’s helpful to point them out, but I’m planning another post of things that were helpful during this time.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I get the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief, but when they are in the context of friends and acquaintances who try to offer a word of comfort, sometimes that falls flat. Here are the worst things I’ve heard this month in relation to the death of my nephew:
God needed another angel. No, just don’t. That doesn’t make anyone who is grieving feel better. In fact, my response to someone who said that to me was, “Really? So God is sitting up there lonely and required the presence of my nephew? Well, I’d rather have him here with me.” Which was my totally hurt heart speaking back to them. My suggestion is that if you don’t even share the same religious faith with the person suffering the loss, you don’t bring up God or Yahweh or Buddha or any divine Being.
He’s in a better place. This place, right here on earth with us and his family, seemed like it was a pretty good place. We liked this place just fine. That’s just a reminder, especially for non-believers in Heaven as a destination, of the empty hole our loved ones left. Don’t tell someone that their loved one is better off dead.
At least he’s no longer suffering. Reminding me of the pain he felt prior to leaving this world isn’t a helpful sentiment. Of course we don’t want our loved ones suffering, but the reminder of the physical pain doesn’t lessen the emotional pain we’re feeling. In fact, let the loved one suffering the loss bring this point up if they choose to and don’t offer this as comfort. It’s not comforting.
You’re going through the grieving process. No kidding? Yeah, I know that. Pointing it out to me while I’m doing it doesn’t help. It’s like pointing out that I’m building muscles while lifting weights. I KNOW THIS. Here’s the thing: the grieving process is different for a lot of people. Some days I feel like I’ve gone through every emotion according to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief and others I think I’m back at the first one again. Most of the time, I’m all over the place and might feel like the grieving process is a sickening feeling (which it is most days). Even if you bring up something like, “It sounds like you’re in the anger stage,” that isn’t helpful and this is the time to be helpful.
Using the deceased picture as your avatar. It’s really hard to see a picture of my nephew come up on my Facebook feed. It makes sense for my family to do it and I see their names attached to the photo, but if you’re a friend, please use a picture of you and the deceased person. It’s more personal to you that way and it doesn’t set off the family in a jarring way. It also reminds me that you actually knew him and spent time with him and took a photo together. I smile at those pictures because they remind me of the good times he had with friends and family when he was here. Otherwise, I’d recommend against doing this.
In my followup post to this, I’ll offer examples of things that are actually very helpful.
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