And even though their intentions are good, they sometimes can say and do the stupidest things.
Let me start off by saying I get it. Not everyone is comfortable around grief and not everybody knows what to say or do around someone who’s grieving. I get it. So even though the title is a little jusgemental, this is more of a guide of what appropriate responses would be if you happen to bump into someone who’s recently lost a loved one. And I use the word ‘bump’ on purpose.
It seems a lot of people think sadness or death is contagious and instead of carrying on a friendship like normal they just disappear. And that’s why I use the word ‘bump’. People you considered good friends, or at least close acquaintances, suddenly stay away. No phone calls, no spontaneous visits, no messages. Nothing. Let me put your mind at ease. You will not catch my grief.
On the other side of the spectrum are the friends you still see, as you normally would, but they don’t ask how you are. Not once. It’s like they’re thinking ‘if we don’t mention it it means it hasn’t actually happened.’ These are friends who know your mom or dad, who would ordinarily ask how they’re doing, but now…nothing. It’s as though the person I loved the most in the entire world, the reason for me being, just never existed. I promise you can ask me how I’m doing. Besides been acceptable it’s also just good manners.
In case you’re getting bored, I beg of you that you just read this next point. And then you can:
All of the above
You know the old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say then say nothing”? Well the same applies here but it’s more a case of “if you don’t have anything intelligent / kind / empathetic to say then say nothing.” I know this sounds awful and is possibly the reasons you stay away or don’t ask how we are but here’s a tip. You know how when you ask your partner if your bum looks fat in a pair pants, or if he thinks the cute little blonde standing next to him is prettier than you, he instinctively says “no, of course not!” That’s a learned response. A very clever one. One that has probably saved many a relationship and a life. If he were to elaborate he’d probably dig his own grave, so ” no, of course not!” is where he should stop. Same with someone who’s lost a loved one.
If you don’t feel equipped to say ‘all the right things’ then just say “I am so sorry” and leave it at that. That’s the smart thing to do. If you’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and dying do not feel you need to elaborate with things like:
Well they were old so at least they lived a good life (if a parent has passed away)
At least they didn’t suffer (if anyone has passed away)
The upside is you can have another one (if you’ve lost a child)
You’re young enough to find someone else (if a spouse or partner has died)
Shame man, you’ll feel better soon
It was God’s will (if anyone had died)
They’re in a better place (if anyone has died)
These are often standard responses but in case nobody has told you, let me be the one. They are stupid responses. They leave the grieving person feeling worse than before.
On Friday I went to have my haircut, and the woman cutting my hair asked me why I look so tired. She also asked why I had eczema on my head. I answered that I wasn’t sleeping well and that the eczema was probably from stress. She asked why I was stressed. “The usual stuff I suppose. It’s almost the end of of the year. It’s been a long one and my mom recently passed away!”
Granted she’s from the Ukraine so her English isn’t great, so I can forgive her slightly, but she then went on to say:
Ah, the old age? (I’m assuming from the way I look she thought my mom was ancient)
No, not really. She wasn’t that old. It was sudden and we weren’t expecting it.
Ah, an accident?
No. She passed away in hospital
Ah at least she died in a hopsital. With people around her. It would have been horrible if she was on her own!
Before I stabbed her with her own scissors I asked her if we could change the subject and chat about something a little more upbeat. Which we did.
My best moments since my mom died have been:
Friends messaging me with a beautiful quote or just to say they’re thinking of me
Friends who didn’t know my mom but acknowledge her and my pain. And openly talk about it
Talking to friends who have a lost a parent because they just get it. They understand the desperate void left
Friends who meet me for a cup of coffee and we sit and talk crap for an hour or so and don’t visibly cringe if I mention a moment that happened to include my mom
Hopefully this will be of use to you. If not, delete it and move on. At your own peril.