Things You Should Know About Grief
Grief is a universal experience, and one that we are each likely to encounter several times
throughout our life. We grieve when we move house, end a relationship, lose a job, when pets and parents and babies die… there are so many losses that come up in life, and each loss evokes its own grief. But if grief is so common, why do we as a collective society know so little about it? Why do so many of us feel the fear of not knowing what to say to someone whose loved one just died? Why do so many of us shy away from using words like “dead” and “died”? Why does our society do such a poor job of preparing us to grieve, or to support those who are grieving? Truth is, there’s no one or easy answer to any of these questions. But perhaps the tips below might be a good place to help you begin exploring and looking for your own answers. What follows is a short list of things I believe everyone should know about grief. Let me know if you’d like me to do to a part 2 with other things everyone should know about grief!
Be mindful of making assumptions about how someone else is experiencing their
Each loss will evoke its own unique grief experience. That means that your grief
when you lose your job, have a significant illness, and when your friend dies won’t look
or feel exactly the same. Because each loss is so unique, please try not to shame yourself
for having a grief reaction that is different from pervious losses you’ve encountered, and
don’t assume that you know exactly how someone else is or should be feeling when it's
their turn to grieve. Instead of assuming, try creating a non-judgmental space for your
friend to tell you about how they are experiencing their grief today (because from day-to-
day, it’s common for it to feel different!)
Every loss is valid and deserving of support.
No person should be made to feel that they need to justify or defend their grief to anyone else. That said, of course there are notable differences between types of loss, for example the grief that stems from divorce and the grief that one experiences when their spouse dies. All grief is valid and deserves proper care and support.
Your grief does not make you a burden.
One of the hurtful impacts of living in a world that is grief-phobic and often intolerant of hard feelings is feeling like we must be happy and positive at all times; as if happiness is the “ideal” and all other feelings need to be“fixed”, preferably quickly and in private. Grief and loss are so hard; they are perhaps the hardest things we will ever have to endure. You are allowed to feel your feelings and share them with others, and you shouldn’t have to pretend that you are ok when you really aren’t.
You don’t have to say it perfectly, but please say something.
Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to say the “right thing”, or we fear upsetting the grieving person more than they already are, that we end up saying nothing at all. The thing is, you’re grieving friend is already hurting: saying the name of their loved one likely won’t remind them of their loss – as if they could forget in the first place. Don’t focus on finding the “right words” to fix, solve, or cheer them up: instead, focus on simply holding
space for your friend. Instead of offering platitudes like “everything happens for a
reason”, try letting them know you are thinking of them, use the name of their loved one
when you speak about them, or even say something like, “I’m not really sure what to say,
but I’m so sorry this is happening. I love you. Do you want to tell me about how you’re
feeling today?”. We know that talking about these big feelings can be uncomfortable, but
as a griever it is such a gift when someone gets brave enough to traverse their own
discomfort so they can come sit with us in our grief.