Five Things to Never Say to the Newly Bereaved
We’ve all done it- said something so stupid we regret even as it’s pouring past our treacherous lips. Maybe we congratulate someone on being pregnant – when they’re not. Asked about a co-worker’s job hunt we’re not supposed to know about. Spilled the beans on a surprise party. Whatever. Some statements can be recovered from. Others… not so much. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Human frailty. That’s why. Some of us are just oblivious to the fact that what we say can be hurtful or just downright dumb. Or forgetful- we forget the party is a surprise or that our co-worker swore us to secrecy. Or sometimes it’s a simple, innocent mistake. We think we’re being thoughtful and supportive but have no idea how our well-intended utterances grate against the raw wounds of someone in mourning. Let’s take a look-see at some examples of the latter. Now, while some of these fist-clenching “niceties” may be acceptable in time, none of them should be even whispered to the newly bereaved.
Want to know how to upset someone who is already pretty convinced the remainder of their lives will be a doom-filled existence of emptiness? Try taking one of these gems out for a stroll:
- “You’re young, you’re pretty/handsome…You’ll find someone new.”
Maybe, if rephrased and kept wrapped tight for many moons after a person has been widowed, this one would be passable. But please, make sure you are in the bereaved’s inner circle such that he or she finds your thoughts on any future love escapades meaningful. And whatever you do, and no matter who you are, do not attempt to switch up the standard, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” with this nugget at the wake. I know – you’d think that one need not be said. And yet, alas, somewhere out there at least four people are going about their lives with no clue how close they came to feeling this widow’s wrath for saying just that to me. At. The. Wake.
“He’s in a better place.”
You mean, he’s better off dead than being here with me? Is that what you mean? Because that’s how that one is interpreted. Maybe you actually mean, “I’m sure no matter what he went through here, he is somewhere at peace now. And I know you love him still and wish you could die, too, but I’m here for you and will help you through this.” Or something to that effect. So then say that instead. But, Kind Condoler, let me assure you that no one wants to hear how much better off their loved one is, now that they’re dead. Even if it’s true. Even if they suffered so greatly in life that death was their only release – Shut it. Seriously. Yeesh.
- “At least he was old.”
You’re right. Grandpa was old. And I know you mean to reflect on how death finds us all, and we should all be so lucky to have such long, fulfilling lives. But for real now – Shut. Up. Because just because we all die does not mean the ones we leave behind will not hurt when it happens. At least, if we lived our lives right they will. Not to say there should not be a measure of jocularity at my bonfire, bull-riding memorial service, but please, let those who miss the deceased, mourn the deceased. Their way. Even if Grandpa lived to be a hundred, he is still gone when last week he was here. And he will be missed. Don’t take that away from him. Or those who are mourning him.
Call me oversensitive but this one still gets me in a tizzy ten years after my children were compelled to accept the fact that their dad had been killed. And while I believe the first three offerings are at least intended to comfort those in pain, I can’t find anything but a desperate need for the person saying this to believe it, rather than the belief that it will comfort the parent of any child suffering such a loss. It was said to me at the wake and I nearly vomited with the realization that my children were expected to bounce right back, because so many people needed to believe they would not suffer.
This one sentence diminishes the extraordinary courage and strength it takes for a child to move through the kind of pain accompanying the death of a parent or sibling. It can also falsely sway a parent into thinking her work to help her children heal will be less than what it truly is.
Yes, it’s true – I have seen my children acquire coping skills many adults lack. And they have made it through catastrophic loss and pain. And yet, their struggle lives inside them each day. They overcome it each day because they choose to, not because they have some innate resiliency possessed only by small children. At what point does this phenomenon pass, then? At what point do the superpowers abandon us, so that we must learn how to be resilient, rather than pick up our magic wand and simply be so? Three of my kids are teenagers. Their cleaning skills may be non-existent but their coping skills are off the charts. Do they now get to believe in themselves? Be proud of their strength rather than chalk it up to their loss at such young ages? Must the concerns I’ve learned to express less often continue to be dismissed with this response? Argh.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
It’s a tossup for me as to which is the stupidest thing to say to someone staggering from the loss of a loved one. And as much as the others irk me, this one may just be crowned the winner.
What does this mean, anyway? Just because a person is grieving does not mean they don’t know the reason behind their pain. And most often, the cause of death is not much of a mystery. Is it supposed to make someone feel better? And why is it so often accompanied by a knowing, chin-grabbing, head nodding choreography? What the *!*! are you talking about? I lost track of how many times this and #4 have been said to me. And I know I’m not alone in my failure to comprehend the point of this inane comment. We know why natural disasters occur, why war happens, and why animals sometime attack. And it still sucks every time! So if this little tidbit is meant to be a revelation of some sort, I’m missing it. Don’t say it. Just don’t.