Thursday, June 18, 2009

What not to say when someone is grieving.

The list of what to say or do for someone grieving is much shorter than the list of what not to say.

One of the best things to say is simply, ''I'm sorry." If you have a happy memory, share it. Most of all, listen.

"It's so important to listen and just let the person say what they need to say," said the Rev. Beth DeVan, staff chaplain for Mercy Medical Baldwin County Home Health. ''Your presence says more than anything else. And it says it better and it says it without the dangers of all those other things."

Which question or comment inflicts the most pain is hard to say, but those who've suffered significant losses have heard more than their share.

Here's a look at what not to say - and why.

1. "Are you over it yet?"

  • ''It's not a cut on the arm that gets better," said Lonn Spencer, whose 21-year-old son, Charlie, died of complications of an undetected heart condition while out running a few years ago. ''I mean, every day (you) wake up your son is not there or your daughter, and so you can't get over that. You just can't."

2. ''I know how you feel."

  • ''If you've suffered a loss then you may have an idea," said Rabbi Steven Silberman of Congregation Ahavas Chesed, ''but you don't know exactly how I feel."

3. ''God needed him more than you" or ''God needed another angel."

  • ''In my book that's not a valid explanation because I think it's just a tragedy," Spencer said.

4. ''He's in a better place."

  • ''He's not here," Spencer said. ''And he may be in a better place but he's not here that I can put my hand on him and hug him."

5. ''He's with God now."

  • ''God's eternal. And my dad's spirit is eternal. So my dad's eternal spirit is going to be with God for eternity, and so if I want my dad for another few years and my mom wants to be with her husband for another few years, you know, don't say that to me," Silberman said.

6. ''Time will heal."

  • ''It's not helpful to say soon after a death because it does sound like it trivializes the person's grief," DeVan said. ''When you start grieving it is so intense that you can't imagine life ever being different."

7. ''Well, you've got more children, don't you?" or ''Thank goodness you have your other child/ren."

  • It treats the surviving child like a spare tire, said Sarah Snell, whose son Anthony died when he was 6 weeks old. Furthermore, parents grieving the death of one child may now be particularly fearful that their other child or children may die.

8. ''It was God's will."

  • ''No one knows what God's will is but God, and it's real presumptuous," said local grief counselor Nikki MacDonald. ''It never makes the griever feel better."

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