Grief is one of those things that makes many of us uncomfortable. We’re a society that likes to solve. Grief is ugly, painful, and on its surface unproductive (though I’d argue that underneath the surface it’s highly productive).
I think we’re particularly bad at grief when it’s non-death-related. Death-related grief generally gets a pass. It’s understood that the griever is mourning and that nothing other than time can soften the pain. It’s also widely acknowledged as legitimate, as death is seen as the ultimate tragedy. It can’t be solved. It just is.
What I’d like to encourage is an acceptance of grief as something that is personal and deserving of time and respect. Healing is possible, but only when the grief is given legitimacy.
As someone who has had an extremely hard year, I’ve noticed that while no words can make the grief disappear, some words can certainly exacerbate it.
Or at the very least exercising caution based on your knowledge of that individual.
One recommendation before I begin: Since death tends to be viewed as a legitimate source of grief, ask yourself if you’d say these things to a person grieving a death, as a litmus test for whether you should say them at all.
Grief isn’t a decision made by people who spend careful hours contemplating their best course of action. It’s a natural emotional reaction to loss and disappointment. Again, think of the death example. You wouldn’t tell someone who lost a parent not to feel sad since sadness won’t bring back their loved one.
A grieving person will at times feel angry about his loss. Accept this as part of the process rather than lecturing the griever about how he ought to pick himself up by the bootstraps/re-frame as positive/move on with life. Feeling anger and a sense of injustice temporarily is normal and does not signify a decision on the griever’s part to never move on. Acknowledging a loss or challenge is also not the same as playing the victim.
This one depends a lot on the individual. For some, hearing that their grief is part of God’s plan is comforting. For others, it comes off as flippant, as something that’s easy for the non-suffering person to say when they’re not the one in despair.
So what should you do?