Obviously, when it comes to death, everyone handles it differently. Though the stages of grief may be similar, every person’s individual experience with grief is unique. Differerent people find comfort in different things.
Death can be a touchy subject for many, myself included, and that means finding the right thing to say to a grieving person can be hard. In the wake of losing another acquaintence from high school, I have been reflecting once again on society, people, and the role of social media in the grieving process. Many people are clueless when it comes to tact, even in their everyday life, but especially in times of other people’s sorrow. Often, even well meaning people unwittingly say the wrong things.
My personal policy is ‘when in doubt, keep your mouth shut.’
Unfortunately, a lot of these people don’t have any doubts about the stupid things that may come out of their mouths.
As I said before, everyone finds comfort in different things, so to say that all grieving people would be annoyed or insulted by these things would be presumptuous of me. But I will say, when I’m grieving, I do sometimes want to smack people who say certain things.
So here are a few things I try to make it a point not to say to someone who has lost someone else.
1) Who died? – Especially with the emergence of social media sites and “smart phones”, people seem to have forgotten some very basic manners. If you must look in on your friends’ grief when they post about losing someone, there are waaaay more tactful ways to ask about their loss then “who died?” (Yes, I actually saw someone say this, this morning.)
2) They’re in a better place- Oh, really? That’s nice. Personally, I prefer being above ground to below ground. Oh, you meant Heaven? Well, that’s sweet of you to say. Really a nice thought… except, I’m an atheist, so…yeah, that doesn’t comfort me a bit.
3) At least they’re not suffering- Yeah, you may be right. Maybe their long battle with cancer is over, or they no longer have to fight their addiction… Or maybe they were just out with friends last week, having a grand old time, smiling and laughing, enjoying their life until it ended, perhaps suddenly and unexpectedly. You know… not suffering.
4) She/He’s lived a good long life- Yup. In fact, their life was maybe so awesome and good that they (and the people who loved them) will probably miss them like crazy, and wouldn’t have minded them sticking around for a bit longer.
5) Heaven has another angel- Um… like I said…atheist. But even if I wasn’t, humans don’t become angels when they die, do they? I thought angels were created by God before humans ever existed. Maybe I’m being ungracious, and people are just saying things like this to find comfort in what is likely a very confused and upsetting time. But, again, to me at least, these types of sentiments ring a little false. They offer me no comfort, and in some cases, not a little bit of annoyance.
6) The good die young- Yep. But, then again, so do pimps, drug dealers, and, often, rock stars. Chances are, the deceased was none of the above. We all have light and dark. The fact that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who lives and who dies is part of what makes death so hard to accept. And please, don’t say
7) It was part of God’s plan
Not to me, anyway. I might not be able to restrain myself from smacking you and then telling you it was in God’s plan.
I have also heard some people say that they hate it when people say “If you need to talk…”
I personally don’t think that would bother me, unless the person saying it never seemed to notice my existence before my grief. Some people just thrive on other people’s drama. And maybe grieving people get tired of talking. If you feel you must say something else, asking your grieving friend or relative “what can I do (for you/ to help)?” may be reasonably safe, and then leave them the option of what telling you what it is specfically they need (and it may not be someone to talk to…)
Basically, unless your grieving friend opens one of these avenues of conversation (for example: indicating they believe in Heaven, or mentioning that they are glad their loved one’s suffering is done) the best bet when addressing someone who is in mourning is to just say, “I’m sorry” and not much else.
In Memory Of Greg Knapstein (1981-2013)