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Grief comes in all different shapes and forms: losing a job, a pet, breaking up, being rejected by your crush.
For me, it was losing the love of my life.
A year and a half ago, my entire world came crashing down when my boyfriend, a fit and healthy, handsome young man, had a sudden cardiac arrest and his heart stopped beating forever.
Since then, death has become a major part of my life.
Prior to this, little did I realise, as a society, we are really not good at dealing with the subject of death—be it dealing with our own bereavement or being there for a bereaved loved one. It has always been the elephant in the room, and we don’t know how to maneuver through this delicate subject. Death is such an ingrained part of life, and it is about time we equip ourselves to embrace it.
There is no right way to help a loved one facing a life-altering tragedy, but there are some unhelpful things that we oftentimes unintentionally say without really thinking about the consequences.
These are five things that I personally found unhelpful, and, like all things emotional, it varies across situations and individuals:
- “Time heals everything.”
Yes, time helps us deal, but not heal. My therapist shared one of the most profound things I have heard when dealing with time and grief. Think about grief like learning how to surf for the first time. Grief comes in waves, and, initially, the waves will be overwhelming and hit you unexpectedly. As you learn techniques to navigate through the waves, you will manage the peaks and troughs better.
- “I know how you feel.”
No, you don’t and no one does, because grief is different for each one of us. Our relationship and emotional connection to who or what we held dearly is different—as is what it means to us. It is not helpful to tell someone that you know how they feel, because, truth be told, no one does. In some ways, telling them you know how they feel diminishes their pain and suffering.
- “You are so strong.”
This might initially seem like a positive thing to say, but no, telling me I am strong was the last thing I wanted to hear. My whole world was in pieces, and I was put through something that I did not imagine in my worst dreams. How could I possibly feel strong? I was put in a situation beyond my control, and there was nothing I could possibly do.
- “He’s in a better place.”
When it comes to grief from the death of a loved one, this is a common thing we hear. But, when we take a step back and reflect for a second, how do we know that? We’ve never been there, have we? When you are facing a life-altering event, grief makes you question everything you have believed in. It is not helpful to tell someone what you don’t know for sure about the new reality they are just beginning to come to grips with.
- “I’m here for you.”
One of the most common phrases we are all guilty of saying to someone in our life who is suffering. But, this puts the burden on the grieving person to reach out and be vulnerable. If you genuinely want to be there for a friend, show up. It is as simple as ringing them or bringing them a cup of coffee. If they want to open up and share, they will.
Grief is complicated and difficult, and it is only human to want to make all our loved one’s pain go away. But sometimes there is nothing much you can do but give them a big, warm hug.