How to (Suitably) Comfort the Grieving

Two weeks ago, I discovered this really touching Upworthy blog on social media about grief: http://www.upworthy.com/magic-words-to-say-when-everythings-going-wrong-not-everything-happens-for-a-reason. The author of this blog has something really powerful to say. I think these words are especially pertinent to anyone who has ever tried to give solace or facilitate the grieving process for someone else.

We cannot assume that everyone in the world has experienced loss at some point. Some people have gone through life without ever having to lose someone close to them. Some people have lost so many of their loved ones that life becomes almost unbearable. Nevertheless, our society has expected/ prescribed words to relay to someone in response to death regardless of their experience with it. For example, people may say “My prayers are with you”, “My deepest condolences”, “He/She is in a better place (at peace) now”, “please let me know if there is anything I can do” etc. Those phrases might very well come from a place of good and sincere intentions, i.e. to offer support and strength to those who are in grief. However, the author of this article describes how these prescribed phrases serve as platitudes and can oftentimes do nothing to help the bereaved. She refers specifically to a phrase that people say to offer a sense of hope and direction – “everything happens for a reason.”

In fact, many things in life do not happen for a reason. Life is random. Death is random. Thinking that there is a pre-ordained reason that can warrant/ make sense of the loss of someone you loved becomes psychologically catastrophic. As the author beautifully states, “’Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.’ Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve…losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed…These things can only be carried”

Therefore, the loss of someone you loved cannot be fixed, it can only be carried. In many ways, this devastation can lead to growth. However, the reality of the situation is that it oftentimes doesn’t. Death often destroys lives. The author contends that this is, in part, because “we’ve replaced grieving with advice—with platitudes.… By unleashing platitudes and “fixes” on those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.”

So what’s the solution? We often offer platitudes because we don’t know what else to say. Well, according to the author, the solution is simple. We must simply acknowledge. The most powerful thing we can do is to say is, “I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you” and say nothing more.

The key here is to say you’re there “with” someone instead of “for” them. Saying that you are there “for” them implies that you are going to do something to fix the situation which is not your place at all. However, standing “with” them in that zone of vulnerability, discomfort, and disbelief can be incredibly empowering.

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