What I learned after the deaths of my mother, Jean, and my two daughters, Jenelle-age 19, and Amy-age 9 to a distracted semi-truck driver is that things people say and do to help grievers can be perceived as both hurtful and insensitive by the people that are receiving the help. Below are five myths that need to be better understood.
1. There is a “right way” to grieve. This statement is so wrong. Everybody should and does grief differently. Let them! Encourage them! Some grievers need to cry, some need to get angry or scream and shout while others “hold their pain” inside of them—hoping that it will soften or disappear. Some want to be alone while others want and need social interaction. These are all acceptable ways to grieve. A griever needs to experience their own unique grief. Instead of telling them what to do, encourage them to grieve in their own way. Give them permission to get emotional, cry, or express their frustration or anger. Just “be there” for them.
2. You should never talk about the deceased person. A grievers greatest fear is that people will “forget” about their loved one. Most prefer to hear stories and see pictures about the departed. If you are not comfortable sharing a story, ask permission. Ex. (I remember a funny story about your husband, is it OK if I share it with you?) Proactively share stories and pictures of the deceased. Let your friends know that their loved ones will always be missed and remembered.
3. Grievers will eventually “get back to normal”. A griever will never be the same person they were before the loss. They have been through a traumatic experience and have lost someone who they will never speak with again, never touch again, never hear their voice again, or never feel the unique way they did around that person. Try to accept the griever for who they are today, not who they were before their loss.
4. Giving advice is the best way to help someone who is grieving. Most of us feel helpless unless we can “fix things”. The temptation to give advice is always there. While your intentions to help are admirable, sometimes your guidance might come across as superficial or impersonal. Just being there is often the best way you can help the bereaved. Try to share in their pain by being sensitive to their wants and needs while reminding them how much you care about them and their families.
5. Time heals all wounds. Time appears to “stand still” to those who are grieving. While a griever suffers from their tragic loss, the rest of the world keeps going while their life has come to a screeching halt. Things like seeing friends having fun or seeing people laughing can be hurtful to a griever.
Time does not heal all wounds as grief does not have an end date. Always be respectful and understanding of what your grieving friend is going through. It is important to understand there is a “new normal” for them. Time will change things and the overall intensity of the grief will slowly diminish. Grief never ends. Grievers simply adjust to their new life.
Randy Stocker is a survivor of the worst kind of loss—the death of a child—two children and his mother, in his case. Randy and his family live in Rochester, MN. He is the author of the book, “Hugs Help”, as well as a professional speaker, His presentation is called, “Understanding Grief—As a Griever, As a Supporter, and As a Friend”. He is active in his community via civic organizations like BNI (Business Networking International), the Chamber of Commerce, and his church. Randy’s goal is to provide practical advice to both grievers and supporters.