Friday, September 2, 2011

"Sorry that bad thing happened to you, at least it wasn't worse."

Grieving can be an intensely invisible process. I've dealt with a lot of grief in my life and I'm sure I'll discuss most of it eventually, but this entry is prompted by other people's grief.

It can be difficult to know what to say when someone you know has experienced something devastating. For instance, a friend made a post on a popular social networking site about a family member who passed away. Most of the people who responded seemed to be helpful in their support, while others seemed to be grasping for words (each reaction is, of course, legitimate).
In general, saying something like "I'm sorry that bad thing happened to you" followed (or not) by whatever supportive words are comfortable for you to say (I'm thinking of you/sending my love/here if you need me/bringing over an easily reheatable dinner in a container I don't care about getting back for your family tonight so you don't have to think about it, etc.) is helpful. Also, you don't have to offer to help if it won't work for you.

Saying "I'm sorry that bad thing happened to you, at least it wasn't worse" is generally completely unhelpful. "I'm sorry your baby died, but she was sick - at least she wasn't murdered". "I'm sorry your best friend was smeared onto the freeway by a semi, at least he wasn't raped by bears first." Um, yeah - that definitely would have been worse, but so what? Things could ALWAYS be worse! Folks have the right to make space for the anguish that's happening to them right then without others minimizing their pain (intentionally or not).

Don't worry about having answers or the "exact right" thing to say, just be genuine. If you offer help, follow through. If you truly don't know what to say, say nothing. It's okay if you mess it up occasionally, I sure do.