What Not to Do When Someone is Grieving

bigstock-a-young-woman-comforting-a-wid-39146014-2 Experience is the greatest teacher.  Over time experience has taught me many things.  Some of them cause me to reflect back and understand how hurtful something I have done or didn’t do was to someone else. When we were expecting our first baby, a neighbor couple experienced a difficult pregnancy loss.  We didn’t say anything to them.  We did not know what to say.  How could we stand and try to comfort them, when we still had what they were grieving the loss of.  We were worried that anything we said would be insensitive.  An in-your-face reminder of their terrible loss.  So, in our inexperience and fear, we did nothing. Fast forward several years.  Many wonderful things were happening in our life.  We had moved closer to family, started a new job, bought a new house, we had two children and we were expecting a baby.  On Friday as we were moving from our apartment to our new house, my wife commented in passing that she hadn’t felt the baby move recently.  She tried to shrug the feelings off, but they returned and would not go away.  We were in the middle of packing up the apartment and we still needed to sign all the papers to close on our house.  We called the doctor and made an appointment to just check to make sure everything was ok.  We found someone to tend our four and two-year old children and went to the doctor to hear the heart beat.  The nurse worked and worked to find the heart beat and ultimately found none.   Dazed, we continued with our move. Later, buoyed by the doctors assurance this was a fluke because we had two previous healthy births with no complications, we were excitedly expecting again.  Our new neighborhood was filled with other young couples also expecting babies.  We were so excited.  Only to have our hopes dashed again.  After this second loss in 9 months, we were devastated. If you are grieving, remember people cannot read your mind.  They don’t know exactly what you want.  They may hurt your feelings, but it most likely was not intentional and they would or do feel terrible about it.People said inconsiderate things to us because they did not know what to say. Others would not say anything because they knew not what to say. Some would even avoid us. All of these scenarios were hurtful in their own unique ways. As I pondered this, I realized that we had done the same thing to our neighbors during their excruciating loss. I realized, that because we did not know what to do, we had done nothing and I realized how hurtful that was. Prior to the loss of my wife, a young 19-year old neighbor was killed in an accident.  He was the oldest child in his family and loved greatly by his parents, siblings, friends and family.  He had a bright future ahead of him and was taken unexpectedly in a single car accident returning home from his grandparents.  Six or so months into my neighbors’ path of grief, a friend said to me, “They don’t seem to be moving on.  They still talk about him all the time.”  This comment had a great impact on me.  I did not understand then as fully as I do now what they were experiencing, but I knew this comment did not accurately reflect a healthy path of grief.  Some of the most comforting things to me still are when people tell me memories of my wife and special thoughts they have of her.  It is not our job to judge the difficulty of the trials another person is given nor how they are traveling it.  Is my path more difficult than someone who is divorced, lost a parent at an early age, lost a child?  It does not matter.We are all given trials and difficulties in life.  Even if our trial seems to be the same as another’s, we are different, so the trial will always be unique.  They may have many common elements, but the path will not be the same.  It is not our job to judge the difficulty of the trials another person is given nor how they are traveling it.  Is my path more difficult than someone who is divorced, lost a parent at an early age, lost a child?  It does not matter.  It is my responsibility to do the best I can with the path I have been given and to do my best to help others on the path that they are walking.  It is not a competition to determine whose path is harder. Based on our experience, we learned to say, “We are so sorry. We know there is nothing we can say that will help what you are going through, no words that will make everything better. Please just know that we love you.” I have also been on the giving end of inconsiderate things, because I knew not what was best. Because of that, I have patience with and appreciate every effort of comfort and understand when it appears that no effort was given. “We are so sorry. We know there is nothing we can say that will help what you are going through, no words that will make everything better. Please just know that we love you.” So, if you know someone who is grieving, find meaningful ways that you can express your love and concern to them.  Share tender experiences about their loved one with them.  Be willing to listen if they want to talk.  Be sensitive if they don’t.  Realize that they want you to remember their loved one and sometimes they are having a bad day because no one did, and other times you may trigger a difficult time for them because you did. If you are grieving, remember people cannot read your mind.  They don’t know exactly what you want.  They may hurt your feelings, but it most likely was not intentional and they would or do feel terrible about it. Most of all, we need to be patient with each other as we traverse this path together.

Questions to Ponder:
  1. How can you use empathy to help you act in patience? 

Check out this post in the Patience Badge

 Ron Mortensen was married for over 18 years and lost his wife in February 2013 after battling several brain tumors for over a year and a half.  He is a software developer and father of 4 children. He believes experience is the greatest teacher. “Experience has tempered the absolutes of my youth. I spend more time pondering other’s circumstances and what would lead them to the decisions they make and the opinions they have.” The lessons he feels that he has learned through this trial are compassion and love for others. He believes that “Suffering, grief and challenges can help us be more understanding.”

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