What not to say to someone who is grieving
Recently Kathie Lee Gifford spoke openly about losing her husband, Stephen Colbert has shared how his father and brothers died in a plane crash at a young age, and former President Jimmy Carter revealed a dire cancer prognosis. Sadness touches the lives of these famous individuals as well as the lives of every single American, but it never gets easier to hear about the grief in the world and certainly not in our personal lives.
“Every person in the world will experience some kind of loss in their lifetime,” says Rev. Scott Castello, a chaplain at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. But he also says a person can recover from a loss.
Castello, a grief recovery specialist, has completed an intensive training led by the Grief Recovery Institute which has supported his role as the emergency room chaplain at Advocate Condell where he encounters loss and tragedy on a daily basis.
Through his training and experiences, he stresses that grieving people just want to be heard, not fixed. Often grief makes other people uncomfortable and they are unsure about how to comfort the person who is affected, so while they are well-meaning some assurances can feel harsh and trite.
According to the Grief Recovery Institute, “All efforts to heal the heart with the head fail because the head is the wrong tool for the job. It’s like trying to paint with a hammer.”
Castello urges people to especially veer away from using these phrases when comforting someone:
- God must have needed an angel
- You need to be strong for ______
- Time heals all wounds
- God will never give you more than you can handle
- He/she is in a better place
- Keep busy
- I know how you feel
Castello says even “I am sorry for your loss” is a tricky saying because the word “loss” can seem empty. Instead, say “you have my deepest condolences.”
It is also important to note that while there are the stages of grief such as anger, denial, and acceptance, they are not experienced linearly.
“Every person is unique and so they all grieve differently,” says Castello. “Each person will bounce around between the stages of grief, so no one should worry about if they are grieving in the right way. Let your feelings go.”
For people who are personally experiencing a loss, he suggests seeking out a grief support group or seminar to be able to experience commonality and to express feelings.
“Grief is hard work, it is not easy. If it was easy anyone could do it on their own,” he says.
“Prayer doesn’t have to be only about speaking words. Spend time quieting your mind and just listen,” he adds.
Whether you are the person grieving or offering support, resources are available in each community to help with the process of healing. Castello urges everyone to not wait to seek this help.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.