“People in our culture are basically ignorant about grief and what mourners go through during the grief experience. As mourners it is our obligation to teach others about grief and how to comfort mourners in the appropriate ways. That is the only way to reduce the number of hurtful or ignorant statements that we must tolerate during our grief.” – Anonymous comment to my recent blog post “Six Questions To Ask Yourself Before Comforting a Mourner” –
I don’t know if I agree or disagree with this statement. There is part of me that understands if I am to get from others what I need in my grief I need to tell them what I need and how best to give me the help I need. I also understand that these well-intentioned, goodhearted comforters will continue to say hurtful, ignorant statements to other mourners unless they are taught otherwise. Therefore, it would appear that I am obligated to have enough compassion to try to spare them from making any more unwise, potentially humiliating statements to mourners.
BUT I am also a mourner who is often dog-tired after dealing with my ongoing grief, the everyday stresses of life, and just trying to stay mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy. As a weary mourner I sometimes just don’t have the energy or the desire to take on the extra duty of teaching others how to be compassionate and supportive of grieving people.
So I guess the answer to the question of how to reply to hurtful statements is that each mourner must make up his or her own mind in each situation as to what would be the wisest method or statement to make. If you do decide to immediately reply to a painful statement from a well-intentioned, goodhearted, but ignorant comforter, you might want to consider the following questions first:
Is what I am about to say going to teach the person who tried to comfort me? Or is what I am about to say going to just make me feel better?
Is what I am about to say couched in true compassion and love for the person who made the hurtful statement? Or is what I’m about to say going to exact revenge for the hurtful statement that was just inflicted on me?
Is what I’m about to say going to be seen as instructional for the person making the hurtful statement? Or is what I am about to say going to be seen by the person as a rejection of his or her attempt to comfort me?
Is what I’m about to say what I would want a mourner to tell me if I had done or said something to hurt or offend someone unintentionally? Or is what I am about to say coming out of my arrogance of dealing with someone I view as clueless and inferior in some way?
Is this statement I am about to say going to cement our friendship? Or is this a statement that has the potential of sabotaging or destroying our relationship?
Is this statement absolutely necessary at this time? Or is it something that I can address later when I am not feeling as hurt and emotional as I am at this moment?
Is this statement trying to educate my friend or colleague really necessary? Or is this a time when I should allow the statement to go unaddressed because I know the person making the hurtful statement meant well?
As long as there have been mourners, there have been well-intentioned, goodhearted, but inept would-be comforters. In the world today there are countless people who are clueless about grief, about mourners and about what we need in our grief. Let’s just face it. You and I as mourners are probably not going to be able to educate them all and eradicate grief illiteracy.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t try at the appropriate time and with the appropriate people to educate others about grief and especially about our personal grief. A few well-placed words to educate those trying to help you and other mourners will most likely be well accepted. Those well-placed words of education will be most likely accepted if they come out of love for those we are trying to educate about grief.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa”
Both English and Spanish versions are available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.