Communicating Through the Mess of Grief
There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths about grief as an experience and process. People who have not lost something or someone that they love dearly often expect grieving persons to move on quickly. Many times others will try to relate to the pain in ways that ultimately hurt, rather than help. Think of statements like, “I know how you feel,” or “There is a reason for everything.”
Meanwhile, the popularity of the five stages of grief created by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross have led to her work being oversimplified. The stages are assumed to represent a chronological prediction of emotions, while Kübler-Ross herself stated:
“They [The five stages of grief] are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.”
There are some typical responses to loss, such as certain physical, emotional, and cognitive effects (loss of appetite or fatigue, feeling loss of control or feeling numb, having flashbacks or an inability to articulate thoughts). However, every person’s grief journey is unique.
One thing that can be agreed upon is that grief is messy; this often makes expressing oneself and one’s needs very difficult. Here are some phrases to use with family and friends who want to help and be there for you.
8 Phrases to Use with Family and Friends
1. “I don’t know what I need right now.”
As a grieving individual, you may be asked what you need or how someone can help you. Often, you do not know the answer to this because grief is confusing, it makes decision-making hard, and you are probably in shock.
2. “Can you sit with me?” or “Please distract me.”
In response to not knowing what you need, I suggest picking between sitting still with a friend or family member nearby or asking that person to distract you with something fun. Whether it be going to the movie theaters or getting take-out food at your favorite place, do something to take your mind off the grief. Pick something without big crowds.
3. “I would like to talk about [person’s name / the divorce / etc.]. Would you please listen?”
People often tip-toe around sadness. They try not to say something to upset you and end up passing up the opportunity to allow you to speak about it. Sometimes, as the grieving individual, all you want to do is talk about your loved one and reminisce or process the life change out loud. These moments come and go, but they are important to pay attention to and allow for the words to flow.
4. “You are so important to me and I love you. But can you find another friend to share with?”
As a grieving person you are carrying a lot and need some space before you can begin to carry the burdens of others. Tell them to find a different friend to discuss their issues with. Let them know that you are concerned about them, but need to dedicate yourself to your own mental health and life challenges at this time.
5. “I need you” as code for “Can you run an errand for me?” or “Can you come clean or cook?”
Depression is a complication of grief. This means that you may not be able to get out of bed one day or feel the strength to clean or cook. Tell your friends and family that when you text them “I need you” it means you are having one of these moments, and you are asking them to come over to help.
6. “Please don’t act weird around me. All I ask is that you be extra patient.”
Grieving persons need their family members and friends to not change simply because they are grieving. You are already feeling a lack of stability and control and you need others to be themselves. Ask them to have an extra dose of patience.
7. “I don’t need you to say the right thing. I do need a hug.”
While you may not see yourself as the “hugging type” human connection and closeness is so healing. Grief can feel unbelievably lonely, and holding onto someone can be a relief you may not know you need.
8. “Just show up for me.”
At the end of the day, the people who best support you are those who show up even when they are not asked, even when months have passed and the cards and flowers have stopped. Do not be afraid to extend the invitation and let them know they can stop by. If you are not feeling up to it, kindly let them know you appreciate their gesture but need to have them visit another day.
All in all, it is so important to allow people to be there for you. Lean on them, let them join you in the sadness. As a friend’s mom once said, “Go ahead, sit there for a moment and soak those feelings in. Just don’t pitch a tent and stay there.”