Here’s a rhetorical question. When people try to console those who grieve over a departed loved one, WHY do they find it necessary to chronicle all the terrible things they have heard about lately. For example, I spoke with someone recently who was tendering his “sorry for your loss” to me. Immediately after this statement, he launched into a description of another young man who had been hit by a car and died, someone he knew whose kid was addicted to meth and had been arrested, and so on. Why did he think:
1.) That hearing about someone else’s tragedy would make me feel any better or,
2.) That anyone wants to hear about such horrible events at all?
It is a mystery.
This is not the only time this happened. Many people during the course of conversation seem to delight in recounting the most horrific stories, perhaps thinking that, knowing I wasn’t alone would help, somehow. Yes I know people don’t know what to say. Especially acquaintances that don’t really know us, or didn’t know Jake other than to have met him once or twice maybe years ago. Yes I know they are groping for some words that may soothe or mitigate the sorrow, but geez, get a clue folks. Hearing about someone else’s precious child who has overdosed, or died from a malignant disease, or committed suicide doesn’t make us feel one whit better. In fact, it adds to our sorrow, knowing that someone else is going through such awful pain.
And while I am on this particular rampage, unless your own child has died prematurely, you cannot possibly know or imagine how we feel. You may think you do, may have tried to foresee how you would react, how sad you would be, but until it actually happens, the most dreadful things you can conjure up are but pale chimeras of the real anguish. Your parent may have died, or sister or uncle or dog, and I don’t mean to belittle your sorrow or hurt, I actually do know how you feel. But it isn’t quite the same as a child. It just isn’t. I don’t want anyone to know how it feels. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
There are plenty of resources out there that can help people navigate through the minefield of conversation with a grieving parent. In fact, you can find some of them in the ‘Online Resources’ links on this very page.
Here’s a simple idea for those who may not want to take the trouble to do a little research to learn what you might say that is more appropriate, don’t really understand what it feels like, and wonder what they can say to console us: If you don’t know what to say, just shut the hell up, okay? Or to paraphrase Will Rodgers, “Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”
Today’s post brought to you by Stage of Grief #2, “Anger”.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Wow. That’s all I have to say, except for one thing. I have a friend who immediately says, “it’s like when…….”, and then gives you her own story. Sometimes I think she’s trying to divert my pain, or even take it from me. I listen, we go on to talking about something else, I still hurt and so does she. It doesn’t change anything about how we feel, but it does give us an opening to further discussion which may not have occurred otherwise.
I’m with you. It’s annoying at best and if I’m in anger mode it’s dangerous because I have trouble with my filter when I’m in anger mode. I loved this blog, you express here what many of us can just never say.
Something I am learning to say is, “I’m sorry, I just can’t listen to this right now. I have to go.” I have yet to try it, but it might be a non-destructive way to extricate yourself from these types of conversations.
One of the hardest things to bear for me is someone else’s grief and the feeling that on top of the crushing heaviness of your own loss there is an implication that you need to shoulder someone else’s too. If you have a partner or other children, close family members and friends then you are ALREADY feeling their pain as well as your own, without it being foisted upon you. When it is someone not so close or worse, a stranger who says ‘Hey, aren’t you the parent of…? You’ll never guess what happened to me!’ and then expects you to listen or respond with anything other than “I’m sorry, I just can’t listen to this right now. I have to go.” then it is, in my opinion, far too big an ask. I know in general people’s hearts are in the right places but around this I don’t care. Totally with you on the keeping quiet concept.
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I read this post before and remember my indignation at it then too. I remembered the stupid words “I know how you feel. I have a friend who lost a child…..” Hugs.
People don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. When I am feeling that, I say, “I don’t know what to say.” It is the most truthful thing I can think of . And I hold them. I make sure they know I am grieving with them.
Angry, and articulate. A lot of people could benefit from hearing it put this way.
There are no words. Your presence in that situation is the best thing there is. Just to be there is what’s needed. thank you Rose.
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