“I know just how you feel….”
Even if you’ve lost a child of your own, even if your heart has been broken into a million tiny pieces, the slew of feelings that you went through isn’t going to be exactly the same as what anyone else is feeling.
Out of the 141 things a griever might typically hear after a loss, only 19 of them are helpful so it’s not surprising that you might not know the Best Thing to say but claiming that you know what a griever is feeling… is the worst.
The fact is, most grievers don’t need you to say much at all.
Listening is the gift that fits every occasion.
With the recent deaths of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, the loss of a child is top of mind for a lot of folks and that’s perfectly normal. When we hear about the tragedies of another, it is normal to remember our own losses and normal to want to talk about them.
So what do you say to someone who has lost a child?
For most of us, that loss seems unimaginable.
And that’s the most valuable nugget of truth to remember.
Although heartbreak feels the same whether we are 16 or 60, grief is more than just heartbreak. And even though we know what heartbreak feels like in our own lives, what we cannot know, is what other emotions people are juggling as they wade through their losses. Grief is more than just heartbreak. Grief is a whole slew of emotions that change from moment to moment and person to person.
Your empathy is valuable.
Don’t let your words mess things up.
But don’t slink away in silence either…
If someone you know has lost a child, give them time to get through the funeral, then give them your ear. Let them tell stories about the child and if you have any, tell them your stories about the child. Talking about someone who’s gone doesn’t make grievers sad-all-over-again, it makes them glad to know that their loved one is remembered. If you don’t have any warm memories to share about the child that they have lost, then just listen. And when they seem all talked out, or when you need to leave, offer a hug if you’re comfortable with that. An open ear and a warm hug are more healing than any well-meant words of advice could ever be.
Written by Catherine Mitchell, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist serving the Durham Region.