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  • Writer's pictureerinwalter

They didn't just say that?!

I remember it so clearly, the words that rang in my head after my mom's second day of visitations. There was a prominent business man that shook my hand after speaking with my father with his condolences when he looked at me and said...

"There is no time to be a teen now, you must manage the household affairs, ensure the your father comes home to a clean house and take care of his business agenda. YOU are the woman of the house now. Act according.The community is watching you do your duties."

WFT just happen.

I wanted to throat punch him to be honest and yet no one said to me anything different or correct him. There was no sympathy words, just instructions on what I was to do next.

Or there was the time when my dear beautiful friend died very suddenly...I attended the funeral and her children insisted on me being with them at the tea afterwards. People were talking and storytelling when an elder came up to me and said .."well you know, she is only sleeping. That's what we have told the children so they understand. We hope you will go along with that as well."

To say that my brain almost exploded is an understatement. I am a grief counsellor who truly believes that the truth needs to be expressed in the right environment with the languaging they understand for their age group. I work with the families to establish trust and hold that conversation very scared, to say they are sleeping only creates a false reality and ISN"T true.

These two examples are only but a few and I am sure, you the reader have many yourself. In this blog I hope to share a few tips to help with your words the next time you attend a funeral, celebration or life or run into a person grieving at the grocery store.

"I know how you feel."

While the intention may be to empathize, this statement can fall flat and even hurtful. As Dr. Wolfelt wisely advises, every grief is unique and personal. Instead, show your empathy by saying, "I can't imagine what you're going through, but I'm here for you."

"They are in a better place now."

Well, folks, unless you have concrete proof of this "better place," it's best to avoid this cliché. Meagan Devine suggests staying away from spiritual assumptions, as it might not resonate with everyone. A more sensitive approach would be, "I'm here to support you during this tough time."

"At least they lived a long life."

Ah, yes, the classic silver lining approach. But remember, when someone is grieving, the length of their loved one's life might not bring much comfort. Instead, try sharing a fond memory or a cherished moment you had with the departed. Laughter and joy can be healing too.

"What happened?! I need details"

Although you may mean well and genuinely care, this is not the place to ask. Families are raw and if they want to share they will or they will designate a person to convey the information. Unfortunately, social media, gossip and presuming what happened leads us to false assumptions and inaccurate information.

Asking the question, is like ripping off a bandaid repeatedly and the wound is fresh. Respect the privacy of the family as they may be numb to everything and processing the events themselves. In time, that question may be answered.

"I know exactly how you feel. My pet dog died last week."

Let's not compare apples to oranges, folks. While your family dog might have held a special place in your heart, equating that loss to someone's dear friend or family member is not the best way to console them. Stick to showing genuine empathy without diluting their grief.

"Don't cry; they wouldn't want to see you like this."

Ah, the classic "tough love" approach, right? Well, Meagan Devine would advise you to resist the temptation of telling someone how they should feel. Grieving is a natural process, and tears are a healthy expression of emotions. Instead, offer a comforting hug or a tissue and let them know it's okay to let it out.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

The first time I heard that quote I was around 8 years old and remember wondering, why are they sorry and what is lost...didn't they die? This line is very common and although it is not wrong, and folks don't know what to say, it does just sit there in the air suspended. We nod and shake hands. We could however say, "There are no words at this time."

"You have my condolences to you and the family, I can not imagine what you are experiencing right now."

"I don't have the words to express how deeply sadden I am by this news."

Speak from the heart. Don't avoid the topic or their name, the bereaved want to hear their name, so know lean in and know that you being presence is the most caring gift of all.

Remember, offering condolences is not about finding the perfect words to fix the pain. It's about being present, listening, and showing support during their difficult journey. Dr. Wolfelt's advice reminds us that sometimes silence speaks volumes, and a warm, caring presence can mean the world.

So, readers, let's be kind, thoughtful, and avoid those well-intentioned yet potentially hurtful phrases. As Meagan Devine would say, "The most important thing is to show up." At some point in all our lives we will be on the receiving end; how would we want to be treated. Showing your support goes a long way, people remember and appreciate that you thought of them during this difficult time.

Continue to breathe


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