Saying Nothing Says Everything
The Peachtree City community received very sad news today. A young child (two-years old) drowned in Lake Peachtree yesterday evening (June 5, 2016). Many are wondering how our community can help the child’s family bear this loss.
When trying to comfort someone who is facing a profound loss, knowing what or what not to say can be daunting and perplexing. With the best of intentions, people frequently offer platitudes and advice that make grievers feel worse. Examples include your other children will be a comfort to you; he or she is in a better place; at least your child didn't suffer; time heals; you’ll feel better in a few days; don’t cry or you’ll make me cry; or you just need to be alone for awhile to get yourself together.
Rather than being helpful, statements like these can be harmful as they serve to isolate grievers. The message is that being strong for others is more important than grieving the loss. These types of statements also encourage grievers to minimize the impact of the loss and the emotional value of the one lost. Ignoring grief or pushing it aside can have serious physical, emotional and mental ramifications.
People also say, “I know how you feel” and then go on to tell their personal story of their experience with a similar type of loss. They are well-intentioned, but do not realize that grievers may find it overwhelmingly painful to hear the story. An even more important consideration is that no one loss is the same as another, and no one can really know how another person feels. As a result, it is often kinder not to try to compare losses.
So, what can you do or say that will help? Very often there are no words that can help. By just being there without saying anything sends a powerful message. It says, “I am here for you and I care.” The family members may just want to be heard and to share memories and their feelings, without comparison, judgment, well-meaning platitudes or unsolicited advice. Listen with your heart and remember that saying nothing says everything.
Offering a hug also is powerful. If accepted, hang on until the family member lets go first. It is okay if you are turned down. The offer itself says you care. If a family member(s) cries in your presence, suggest just letting the person cry. Do not touch him or her or offer a tissue, as these actions tend to shut down a needed release of emotion. Crying is healthy and helps relieve pain. It is okay for you to cry, too.
If you have any questions or would like to talk about this loss or other losses that you have experienced, please call me at 404-771-9335. As a certified grief recovery specialist, I can help. Remember: Grief occurs with all sorts of losses, not just death or divorce.
The Grief Recovery Method® is a transformative program that provides a safe, confidential opportunity to gain a better understanding of grief and the myths and misinformation our society perpetuates about grief and the grieving process. It also teaches specific action steps to say goodbye to the pain and heartache caused by loss. By doing so, you will be able to move on and be happy once again. The Grief Recovery Method® is not therapy, but an educational program. It is available in an eight-week grief support group or a seven-week one-on-one format.
James, J. W. and Friedman, R. 2009. The Grief Recovery Handbook (20th Anniversary Expanded Edition). Collings Living, New York, NY.
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