What Not To Say to People in Distress (2)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
As we discussed in What Not To Say to People in Distress (1), some people do more harm than good when talking to the sad and bereaved. Don’t be one of them! Although it’s not easy to spend time with a person who is broken-hearted or chronically ill, we can certainly learn to make a huge difference in the lives of our grieving friends and family if we just face up to our own fears and speak from the heart.
- Death of a child
The death of a beloved child may come suddenly or after a long illness. Either way, it is devastating to the parents, particularly as a child’s death preceding that of its parents is viewed both consciously and subconsciously as something that shouldn’t happen. It does not “fit in” with the natural order of things. We do not understand why one person may live to 99 and another to only 9. Hence this situation is a source of one of the most painful experiences an adult can experience.
If you don’t know what to say when a friend or family member goes through this trauma, don’t avoid them. Simply speak the truth. Tell them: “I don’t know what to say.” Face your own discomfort with the situation and think about how insignificant it is compared to theirs. Again, as we discussed in What Not To Say to People in Distress (1), reassure them that you will be there for them. However if you do make this offer, do not make it an empty one. If you say “I’ll ring you,” and you don’t, you are only creating another source of grief for an already overloaded person.
Although the grieving parents may have other children, do not remind them of this fact. They already know they have other children, but in the early stages of raw pain, their thoughts are purely on the child they have lost. They want that child back. Trying to comfort them with the existence of their other children will simply be irrelevant during this time. They may even lash out in anger at you. Again, this is normal. They want to think, talk, and cry about their lost child. Please let them. Again, time will bring them back into the present and therefore back into their future with will share with their remaining children.
As we all have to deal at some point in our lives with sad and bereaved people, it would be wonderful if we could all look inside ourselves to see what would help us if we were in the same situation. As a rule, if you can access what is in your heart at the time, you will seldom go wrong.
As Don Sibet once said:
“What comes from the heart, touches the heart.”