Acts matter. Words do, too.
How often have we tossed out a careless remark that stung, whether we meant it to or not? In our everyday lives, we are probably guilty of this more often than we would like to admit; after all, we're only human. But when someone is grieving, at such a time of vulnerability and pain, words have the power to comfort or to leave deep wounds.
For one who is grieving, the world becomes a strange and frightening place. When someone we dearly love dies, our world with them also dies and we not only feel vulnerable, we are vulnerable. So, what people say to us at such a time matters.
After my husband died, I had people say things that I still shake my head at in wonder. What were they thinking? Some remarks were clueless. Others seemed downright cruel. Is it because our culture doesn't teach us much about dying and grief, so we prefer to minimize it, to brush it away? And, yet, we do this at the very moment the grieving person needs the deepest heart connection we can summon to support her.
Here are some of the things said to me and how they made me feel at the time.
"Will you marry me?" Yep. Got this one even before my husband had died.
"You should get out of the house; how about coming to a dance?" This was said within two weeks of my husband's death. No, I do not need to get out of the house. If, a year later, the curtains are still drawn and newspapers are piling up outside, then you might want to make this suggestion. Otherwise, please leave me to my own solitude. It might be just what I need right now.
"You're lucky you're still so young. You can still meet someone else." Being young just means more of my life ahead of me without the person I love. As for meeting someone else, it's the last thing on my mind.
"It must be a relief for you after all the caregiving." Really? A relief that my husband is dead and our child has no father?
"He's in a better place." There is no better place than in my arms.
"How long has it been now, a few months? You should be getting over it." So utterly clueless it doesn't even dignify a response.
My suggestion as someone who has been there: If you don't know what to say, then remember what one woman said to me: "I don't know what to say. I'm just so sorry for your loss." That was just fine.
Susanne Severeid lives in Ashland with her son. She is an award-winning author and presenter with an extensive background in international radio and television, including anchoring an Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary.