Words That Hurt -- Words That Help

by Deb Sims, MS, RNCS, LCSW

The grief process is hard enough to go through when support and compassion are ever present. But many of us struggle with what to say and how to give genuine comfort. Our own fear of death may stand in the way of reaching out. Or, well-intentioned advice may be extremely damaging.

When I was 12 years old and my father died suddenly, I distinctly remember being told, "Don't cry. You have to be strong for your mother." I remember the words as if they were spoken yesterday, although I am now 50 years old. It was years before I could give myself permission to grieve.

In my private practice, I frequently deal with those who are grieving. It is not uncommon for a person to be asked two to three months after losing a spouse when they will begin dating. This perhaps unintended insensitivity only deepened the person's pain.

There are no hard and firm rules about what is proper to do or say during the grieving process. But I thought about it from my own experience. So the following is my perception. I invite comments and suggestions.

Alone Among Others

  • Measure how I am doing and I will question "Do you really care?"
  • Promise that you will help me then never be there for me when I call and I'll never risk again.
  • Advise me what to do and feel and I will believe you cannot identify with my pain.
  • Minimize my sorrow or tell me time will heal and I will know you are trying but your words are empty and in vain.
  • Hurry me through my grieving and I will know that you cannot handle it yourself.
  • Deny what I am feeling and you will break my heart again.

Walk With Me Through This Grief

  • Touch myhand with caring and I will feel your healing presence.
  • Sit with me while I cry or am in silence and do not stop me then I will know that you can handle my sorrow.
  • Talk with me about my loss. Let me share my grief and pain and I will know your empathy is sincere.
  • Listen when I share my needs and I will know you are compassionate.
  • Trust that this roller coaster of emotions will eventually slow. However allow me to grieve at my own pace and I will know you understand.
  • Be there for the duration and I will know you genuinely care.

Reassure me that what I am feeling is normal and do not try to abort the process. Then I will truly know you are my friend.