I recently heard from a reader who has been struggling with some unsolicited advice/comments regarding her grief. Co-workers and friends have been saying things like “you’ll find love again” or “there’s someone out there for you”, and maybe that’s true, but right now that isn’t what SHE wants to hear. It doesn’t bring HER comfort and she doesn’t like the thought of either of those things. She doesn’t understand why people feel she has to be one of two to be happy. She doesn’t like the idea of “replacing” her lost love. She will NEVER replace him but the feeling she is having is “normal”. Normal is a term I use loosely. Whatever you feel in your grief is “normal”. Bottom line, she feels how she feels, her feelings are valid AND should be validated!
So, how do we handle the unsolicited advice that comes with grief? How do we politely let someone know that what they’re saying hurts us? She acknowledged the people in her life mean well but the statements still hurt her. After she told me how she had been feeling she said “I guess it shouldn’t bother me…”. Well, this bothered me. Why would she feel like she didn’t have a right to be upset, or that her feelings were insignificant or petty. They are HER feelings. SHE is the one living in the thick fog of grief. Below was my response to her.
“Don’t say it shouldn’t bother you. If it bothers you, it bothers you and that’s completely fine. You’re not wrong for being upset by these comments! Not at all! I think it’s perfectly acceptable to tell people how you feel. He was the love of your life and while he isn’t here…that doesn’t make the statement any less true. You are still here and you’re still very much in love with him. Of course you are!
Explain to people that while you’re not alone by choice (obviously we all wish your love was still here) that doesn’t mean it’s just a spot to be filled. Again, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to tell people how you feel. A.) This isn’t something I want to talk about but I appreciate your thinking of me. B.) I’m not really ready/my heart isn’t open to anyone new right now. C.) I feel “okay” being on my own, this is what’s best for ME right now.
Find a statement you’re comfortable with and use it but protect yourself from that noise I’m always talking about. Well, protect yourself the best you can. People can’t fix their words or behaviors if they don’t know they’re “wrong”/upsetting you.
Just because he passed away and people know of your loss…that doesn’t make your social life public property. I hated that after I lost Luke. I was a topic of conversation to others but it was MY life. People need to understand that.” – End of my response
I heard from her today, she told me she used “Option C” and it worked well for her. She told me she had less anxiety when faced with one of those comments. While my A, B and C were only suggestions for her, when she said “Option C”, it really made me think. Maybe we should arm ourselves with responses to comments and questions that hurt us. Maybe just knowing what we would say will help us, even if we never speak those words, having thought of them…I think this could be very beneficial.
We DO have a right to tell people how we feel. She isn’t ready to date, she doesn’t even want to think about it…she shouldn’t have to hear about it all the time. So, the next time she was faced with a similar “you’ll find love again” comment, she was equipped with armor to face the pain those comments induce. How empowering it must have been for her to be able to say “I feel “okay” being on my own, this is what’s best for me right now”. Seriously, good for her! (I’m very, very proud of you! Xo)
I was caught off guard more times than I care to count by comments people made after Luke passed. I wish I would have spent some more time thinking about how I could address those comments and less time being so angry at the statements and/or the people who were making them. As I wrote in my “When They Say the Wrong Thing” entry, most of our people are well intended. I do believe most people have good intentions but we still have a right to protect ourselves from things that hurt. Even the best intentions can hurt like hell. Protect yourself.
So, what are the statements that hurt you most? What do you wish people would stop saying? How can you protect yourself? What can you say to let people know without alienating them, people who are trying to help? For starters, we have to be honest about what is helpful and what is not. If people don’t know, they simply do not know, tell them. Find ways to tell people what is helpful and what is hurtful. This can be done tactfully and respectuflly. Please don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel!
I always have to disclose that I am not a grief expert, I’m not a trained professional, I am simply surviving grief. I am someone who wants to help, and I am someone who believes we have a better chance of getting through this thing called life, if we do it together! Why should we suffer in silence or alone? Why should we heal and celebrate our milestones alone? We don’t have to! If I can share my experiences with you, share what I’ve learned and if that helps you, if I can bring you one moment of comfort…that’s a blessing for us both, and I’m going to keep on keeping on.