The Mum Network

The Right and Wrong things to say to someone who is grieving.


At some stage of our lives, sadly all of us go through some kind of grief. There are often support groups, counseling and other forms of support for those who are going through a hard time, however, friends and family are not taught the right things to say and we often fumble our way through awkward moments and muddled words.

Often the words with the best intentions come out as thoughtless and completely offensive. Other times people are just plain offensive and you wonder what on earth the person is thinking before they open their mouth.

Home Lost in a Bushfire.
My family have had our ups and downs but a major event that happened to us was when Mum and Dad’s home burnt down to the ground in a bushfire. Everything was lost. So many people were incredibly kind to Mum and Dad but it’s really hard to think about other people when you’re trying to remember if your house was actually insured and where to find clean underwear and a toothbrush for tomorrow.

Wrong thing to say:
– What can I do? (Not sure, can’t actually think what we need to do right now)
– Please let us know if there’s anything we can do (everyone is saying this but people don’t like to ask – just offer up front).
– We would help you but we don’t know what to do (feels like it’s not a really offer of help)


Right thing to say:
– I’m so sorry. What do you need? (Offer what you’re prepared to do to help)
– I’m sending some vouchers so you can buy some small items you may need.
– I’m gathering some household items from friends that may get you through the tough times, is there anything in particular we can get you, toiletries perhaps?  

 

I’ve talked to a number of friends and family who have been through their fair share of tragedy and it’s actually hard to believe how much they’ve been through. I asked them to give us some idea as to what to say to someone who is grieving and importantly, what not to say.

Stillbirth
When Alison Silvester delivered her beautiful baby boy Samuel, he was stillborn. This is one of the hardest tragedies to know what to say as nothing feels sufficient enough to express your sorrow to the family. Not many can relate to the pain and emptiness that is felt after a baby is stillborn. There are a number of things Alison would advise others who have a friend or family member who child is stillborn. The first is to ensure that you don’t smother the mother with kindness, being there, checking in on her, calling, texting and generally getting involved during the first few days and then ignoring what happened in the months afterwards. Parents need constant support after the loss of a child, for years and decades after they pass. That child is always in their hearts and never forgotten so it’s important that you remember their baby too.

Wrong thing to say:
–       Sorry to hear about your baby, but don’t worry, you can just have another one (YES, someone actually said this to Alison)
–       Obviously it wasn’t meant to be (Yep, said that too)

 

Right thing to say:
–       Saying nothing at all is the worst silence of all. Acknowledge their loss by saying you’re sorry.
–       All you want to hear is “I’m here for you, whatever you need I’m here”
–       I’m so sorry (that’s all it takes)
–       Alison adds, “Don’t try to fix anything because you can’t”   

Separation/Divorce
My girlfriend Georgia has just been through a painful separation. It’s been hard as both Georgia and her husband have been great friends to all of us for many years. This is something that will touch many of us over the years and it is often hard to know what to say as marriage is so deeply personal. Georgia has given some phenomenal insights into the things that have been said to her over the past few months;

Wrong thing to say:
–       “Why?”
–       “You should have stayed together for the child”
–        “That’s a great way to destroy you financially”
–       “Do you think you’ll be ok as a single Mum?” 

 

Right thing to say:
–       “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
–       “If you ever need someone to come to an event with you, you just have to ask”
–       “You will never be alone – I am always here for you”

  

My cousin Lisa Henderson, who recently wrote on The Mum Network about her incredible adoption story has had some wonderful news of late with the adoption of baby Ciaran but it’s taken a lot of tears and she’s been through unthinkable tragedy prior to getting to this stage. With the death of her brother, her dad, multiple miscarriages and failed adoptions, she’s heard almost every insensitive comment in the book. The important thing is, be sensitive to family members and don’t make it all about you, extend the arm of comfort and think of what they’re going through. Here she gives us some idea of the best, and worst, ways to respond to tragic events:

Death of a Sibling

Wrong thing to say:
–       “I know how you feel. My dog died” (yes, someone actually said this to her upon hearing of her brother’s death)

 Right thing to say:
–       “I’m so sorry, this is so unfair” 

Losing a parent

Wrong thing to say:
–       “At least he had a good life”
–       “Oh well, he was nearly 70” 

Right thing to say:
–       “I’m so sad, I’m so sorry”
–       “What a beautiful man he was”
–       “He loved you so much”

 

Miscarriage

Wrong thing to say:
–       “It obviously wasn’t meant to be” (Punch in the face coming to those who say this)
–       “You’ll be right. You’re not really pregnant until 12 week so 11 weeks isn’t that bad”
–       “At least you already have two kids”

Right thing to say:
–       “I’m so sorry”
–       “Be kind to yourself”
–       “Life is not fair sometimes”

Failed Adoption

 Wrong thing to say:
–       Saying nothing at all as if it didn’t really happen. Worst thing ever. Acknowledge the loss as the parents thought that baby would be theirs.
–       “Maybe you should give up”
–       “Are you too lazy to have your own kids anymore?”
–       “Oh well, it obviously wasn’t meant to be”

Right thing to say:
–       “I’m so sorry”
–       “Your baby is out there somewhere for you. You have to hold onto that”

Thank you to Alison, Georgia and Lisa for giving us this insight. Often you can say something and not realize how long it resonates and hurts the person it was delivered to. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it and if in doubt, simply say “I’m sorry”.

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