Recently the topic of dealing with “unexpected happenstance” in our lives came up for discussion. Reference was made to how “good meaning” people will tell others what would work best for someone having a similar experience. We all have the most honorable intentions for helping others however our recommendations can be based solely on the life experiences we previously have had.
In the stressful times we are going through presently, we can be bombarded with several situations all at once or at real close intervals of time. What we all are not aware of is the next calamity which will come without warning. Each of us has a different method of coping with stress and traumatic events which when presented, take us to a new emotional high. When it happens to others, hopefully what we verbally share with them will be nurturing, effective, positive, helpful and supportive.
Being part of a grief support group for over 30 years, I can only say that these interactions between people are not always warm and fuzzy. There is a phrase called, “unintentional ignorance” which best fits situations when we say things to people and they react negatively to it. They didn’t mean to say that particular thing, however that is what they have learned over time. We will not realize it is the wrong thing until we get the necessary feedback to help educate us. Example: a young adult living with a brain tumor has a stroke and suddenly dies. Someone talking with the family may say something like,” he is better off now so as to not have to struggle with his condition anymore or this is God’s will”. The person on the receiving end of these comments will get mad at both you and God however, will take it out directly on you for being the one present. Reason being that any time they have to still spend with their loved one is better than their dying. If we say, ” we just have to accept this and move forward or go on”, that might sound good to the sender but not to the receiver. Acknowledging the loss, yes, that is important however being accepting of the death might just take a little time to do that.
Unless you have experienced death, sudden death or some type of traumatic loss, divorce etc, all of the ways we experience grief will be as different as our fingerprints for everyone. We usually can be real safe by giving hugs, saying, “there are no words, I am just really sorry to hear this” and then just ask for their guidance to help them through it.
If we are mindful of these platitudes, as we so unconsciously express them, we will definitely have a better chance to not alienate the very people we are looking to help support. I know you might be saying, “gee Bob I would never hurt someone at a time like that”. I do realize that and it would never be an outright intention. What the history of our grief group’s contribution to this topic has been, says that there is an absolute need to educate the public about how to handle these situations with more awareness and consciousness.
Generally, we will never have had any formal training in expressing grief, just sharing with others what we have heard people say. I hope this might help in some small way the next time you encounter someone’s grief with their loss.