But for many this Christmas will be the first one celebrated….
- without their loved one
- without their beloved pet
- without their partner (and maybe children) after a separation
- after getting a devastating diagnosis
- after losing their job
- without celebrating with close family and friends after a big move
The empty seat at the dinner table is a massive reminder of who’s not there, and family rituals change due to the departure of a particular family member. Approximately 64’000 will have passed away before end of December 2013 in Switzerland. Around 280 of them will be children under 18 years old. A lot more will have gone through a separation of some kind. Even more will have received devastating news of some kind, but those big changes and reasons to feel lost and in grief are not as easy to spot on the statistical radar.
So I wanted to equip you all with some tools that could come in handy should you meet, or even be one of these grieving persons during the holidays.
What are the things to AVOID saying to a grieving person?
- Don’t say “I know how you feel”.
This one is a doozie and it seems to be comforting doesn’t it. Well it isn’t. You see when someone is in a pit of despair they have no idea how they feel so how the heck would you know? Just because your Mum died and their Mum died doesn’t mean it’s similar – this is because every person and every relationship is unique, so the pain is unique – and here’s the thing. This isn’t about you – it’s about them so stop changing the subject to you!
- Don’t say “Be grateful you had them so long”
This is a well meaning attempt to get you to count your blessings but in truth it’s plain hurtful. No matter how long you had them you’re entitled to want them around now and yes you’re grateful but you still want more and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
- Don’t say “You’ll find somebody else”
Well this may be true eventually but while I’m in deep pain missing the love of my life desperately it’s also completely irrelevant to how I feel NOW. So if you find yourself tempted to say this to anyone who has lost a partner through death or relationship breakdown; stop. Take a breath and think about someone or something important to you and say to yourself – “if you lost them don’t worry you can get another one”; register how that feels then say something else.
- Don’t say “They’re in a better place.”
Now according to your belief system this may or may not be true. However it is also irrelevant to the person still here and grieving. It may give a slight comfort if they share that belief, it may cause acute discomfort if they don’t. Either way it’s also changing the subject again – away from their perfectly natural and valid pain and onto the person who isn’t there.
- Don’t say ” So, he won’t be needing those golf clubs/concert tickets/other stuff”
I’m sure I don’t need to explain why this is a bad one – but mainly it’s because once again it’s about you (and your desire not to see those tickets wasted!) and not about the person in pain.
So what are GOOD and HELPFUL things to say?
The main thing is to be honest and sincere. Sometimes all that’s needed is a hug or a smile. Ask questions, be ready to really listen to the answers and don’t offer solutions – a griever wants to be heard not fixed.
Some helpful starters are:
- I imagine that you feel like….
Starting a sentence with “I imagine” is unassertive and gives the griever a chance to correct you. For example you say “I imagine you feel like you’ve been hit by a train” and they say well more like my entire world has exploded. This has given them a chance to say quite unconfrontationally how they really feel. Saying “you must feel devastated” will be generating an internal “yah think!!!” even if it’s not said out loud.
- What happened?
Give them a chance to tell their story – don’t interrupt – questions are about you not them
- I don’t know what to say…
Is often the best thing to say when there really is nothing to say.
Source of above bullet points: blog article “Top five things you should never say to a bereaved person and a few that you should” by Carole Batchelor Certified Grief Recovery Specialist www.griefrecoverymethod.co.uk
If you need more resources, there is a really good webinar where Russell Friedman from the Grief Recovery Institute talks about The Impact of Grief During the Holiday Season. Listen to it here.