Losing a close person brings a huge emotional burden.
Losing a close person brings a huge emotional burden. However, the process of dealing with grief can be much easier if you have a support system that accompanies you with compassion, respect, and love.
As a person that lost her father, these are some things I wish no one had told me during my grieving process.
1. "Don't cry"
Respecting different ways of dealing with pain is very important. For me, it was very annoying every time someone told me to calm down or stop crying. As if putting out all the pain of losing your loved one was something bad. Actually, not allowing those feelings out is what I find the most painful. As I see it, even if a person’s physical body leaves this earth, they now live through others and what they taught them. As I see it, crying randomly when a nice memory comes or when I suddenly really wish my dad was here, are ways of feeling him alive in how much he means to me.
2. “Everything happens for a reason / God has a plan / God knows why he does things”
This was probably the most annoying thing people told me. However, this might be a particular experience as a person born in a mostly catholic country. When I had just lost my dad many people kept trying to make me feel better by telling me I should trust God’s decision, there was a reason behind it or even someone said maybe we had done something wrong and it was God’s way of punishing us. What a horrible thing to say. Especially, considering I am a non-religious person who is trying to make sense of such a huge loss. It is exhausting to keep hearing religious people trying to explain my dad's death as a plan of God.
These attitudes can also sound patronizing and lessen the experiences of the people grieving because they should just accept and trust what God sends them, almost even be grateful for it. I can be grateful for being able to keep living, or for the amazing support circle I have had during the process, but I refuse to ever be grateful for what I consider my worst nightmare coming to reality, losing my dad. Finally, don’t assume a person is being a rebel for not grieving through religion or is angry at God for taking it’s loved one, some people are just secular and grief in other ways.
3. Don't assume you know how people grieving feel
Don't say you understand what we are going through or assume you can imagine our pain. Each process is different, a person might be grieving someone they had a bad relationship with, someone they lost suddenly or at a very young age. Even two people grieving find differences in their experiences. Try to listen and ask how you can help, some people, like me, would rather speak a lot about the past with the person they lost and be asked questions, others would rather talk about something else, be mindful and empathetic. There’s no one right way of being there for a grieving person.
4. Don't just stay in awkward silence, change the topic or lessen the importance of it
After my dad passed away I kept having the inevitable conversations in which someone asks about my parents and ignores or forgets it is not a plural present tense anymore. I really appreciated being asked what he was like or how I’ve been feeling. Treating grief and death as taboo topics can make people grieving feel lonely and even “weird” as there are awkward silences and/or pity in people's faces after saying your beloved one passed away.
Also, don’t do comments that erase the importance of the difficult loss someone is going through. Saying something like “Oh your dad died, sorry I can't speak much as this is such bad timing I’m on holiday” make you a rude and selfish person. This happened to me and for one or another reason that person is no longer in my life.
5. Very important: Don’t tell us to move on
After two years of having lost my dad, I have learned that there is not a right time to move on. Grief comes in waves and it can affect you at any point. For me, one of the most painful comments came from a friend that said “I know your dad died but life must go on,” this was less than a month after my father passed. Even if you have never had a close relationship with your dad, never lost anyone, or are just not very emotional try and be compassionate or empathetic at least. You have no right to measure the adequate time of healing someone else should have and negate their emotions because “it has already been 2 years.”
If you want to go even further, try remembering that anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmases are particularly difficult for people grieving. The empty space on the table, the presents you don't have to buy anymore but you wish you could, the vivid memory of the horrible phone call with the worst news. Reach out and offer support, send a gift or just be extra patient.
Finally, please remember that even if we are in pain everyone wants to smile again. Keep inviting us to the parties or the cinema, keep checking in even if we push you away. Grief can take you to dark and silent places that are temporary of comfort but it’s always nice to know your friends and family are ready to include you back into the life you have decided to pause when your world lost an essential part of it.