Why we need to change our grief vocabulary – part I
Hello there, world!
I am glad you are still around as it has been a bit quiet on my blog lately. That is about to change though which is great, don’t you think? 😀
I have been busy working with clients through my online grief counselling practice, which is very inspiring but leaves me little time to write. Or at least not as much as I’d like.
However, recently I have come across the same thing again and again in my counselling sessions and that is how we talk about our losses and what kind of vocabulary, phrases and expressions we use to put our inner turmoil into words.
Our grief vocabulary.
I noticed that it is either full of apologies or regrets (‘I wish I could have done more’, etc.) or explanations as to why a loss happened and we shouldn’t be too upset about it (‘at least they don’t suffer anymore, etc.).
This really got me thinking and inspired me to this 3 part blog series about our grief vocabulary, what it is, what we need to change about it and how. In this first part, I am writing about what needs to be part of our grief vocabulary and why.
Part II of the series will talk about what to get rid of from our grief vocabulary while part III is about more empowering language a grieving person should use.
But for now, let’s go back to the regrets or explanations that are the most common things to use when we talk about a loss of any kind.
I feel they don’t really do justice to any loss. What’s worse, they take away from it. It feels like we use such phrases like mentioned above to push the loss away from our conscience. All such phrases express to me is the need of the other person to put a loss away, put it in a drawer, lock it away so it won’t ever resurface again.
Therefore, I find this type of grief vocabulary not very helpful.
Before you ask, yes, I have said those phrases as well to others. I still remember that one time I had to go to a funeral of someone I didn’t know very well. I wasn’t upset per se of the passing but was very sad to see the person’s grandchildren in so much distress. It was just heartbreaking.
Instead of giving them a hug and say ‘it really sucks your nan died’, I said ‘At least she doesn’t have to suffer anymore’ (their nan had cancer).
Good one. NOT.
I often think about that encounter because I handled it so poorly. At the same time, it serves as a reminder that I do need to be more careful and conscious when expressing my sorrow of someone’s passing.
You might wonder what better ways there are to try and comfort someone who experienced a loss.
Find below five things I often use and think should be part of anyone’s grief vocabulary.
- I’m sorry
Simple but powerful.
You might wonder if it is too simple. I wonder that myself but so far I have found an earnest and honestly meant ‘I am sorry’ does a lot more for the grieving person than any empty phrase. Of course, I always make sure that ‘I’m sorry’ is accompanied by a quick hug if I see someone in person or a heart emoji if online to give it more meaning.
- I don’t know what to say
This might sound like an excuse but it is not if meant honestly. Think about it. What IS there to say about the passing of a baby inside the womb? What IS there to say to a parent who mourns their child?
No words in the world can describe what we feel or what we think of such a terrible loss. Of course, we want to say something! We want to comfort the grieving person. Again, being honest is the better way to go than those empty phrases we talked about (‘At least they didn’t suffer’, etc.).
- You are in my thoughts/prayers
I find this phrase to be very comforting. It shows that you care and that you will continue to care by not forgetting about the grieving person. It’s up to you if you prefer to say thoughts or prayers. Not everyone prays so therefore you can say that they are in your thoughts.
This doesn’t mean though you now can stop caring. It can be easy to say we will think of someone and we even do but then think we have done our bit. Depending on how close you are to the grieving person, this phrase does not exclude you from physical presence and support.
Rather, it is a good one to use at the start of someone’s grieving journey. It shows that you care but also give them a bit of space to try and collect themselves somehow. Too many people can make a grieving person feel crowded when they don’t even know how they are still breathing. So it can be a good idea to let them know you are thinking of them. But it definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with them further down the path.
- Take your time
This is really the essence of grieving. If we want to heal and learn how to navigate through our new normal, we need to take our time. The grieving need to hear that.
In a world where everything is quick and has an expiry date, it can be hard to properly address our grief. I often think about something another loss mum said to me ‘Sympathy has an expiry date but grief does not’. That is so very true.
How often do we think that such and such should really be better after their loss? It has been a month after all!
Grief doesn’t work that way. We can’t expect anyone to be better when we think it’s time for them. They need and will decide that for themselves. So do give them the time they need.
- It’s about you now
Another one close to my heart. As a society, we often don’t allow the grieving to make their journey about themselves.
Just think about the general set up of a funeral.
There is the ceremony and then there is the wake where those close to the passed one either cook or open their home to those who attended the funeral. That always puzzles me. At a time where most people probably just want to be alone, we force them to socialise and refuse to give them a break from their pain.
Of course, for many, this procedure provides a break from their pain so I am not saying it is a bad thing. It serves as a reminder though that we often don’t consider what would be best for the grieving and quickly judge if they make their grief journey about themselves.
If they want to be alone for a bit then that is just fine. If they want to get on with life as quickly as possible then that is just fine. Who are we to judge?
Of course, this list is not complete and is aimed to give readers an idea on how to best comfort those who suffered a loss. As always, anything said in kindness and that is truly meant honestly, will help the grieving to try and heal.
Stay tuned for the second post in my grief vocabulary series where I talk about things to avoid when comforting someone who is grieving and why.
If you like to get in touch, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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