Words can cut like a knife. Words can also heal our heart. Words are so important to us as humans. We can act as uncaring strangers from time to time using words to force the broken-hearted to stay away.
As grievers, we cut ourselves off from human interaction, but the one thing we need more than anything at this time is one another. Yet we reach out to our family and friends and we hear words of advice that fall flat. We are told things that are not helpful:
- Be happy you had her so long
- You can find another boyfriend
- It was just a dog
The above words hurt us as when we are grieving. They are not helpful, but we don’t say that. We just pull back into our own lonely space and try to heal all alone.
It is almost as if we have begun to normalize these one-liners as the best advice a griever can receive.
I know that sometimes we do not know what to say. This happened to me today. I ran into an old friend and asked her how she was doing. Her mother had passed away about 8 months ago. She proceeded to share the story of the last 48 hours before her mother’s death in great detail. I did not say anything. I just listened. Her eyes were filled with tears and I just kept listening and nodding in acknowledgement from time to time.
How do you think it would have gone if I would have interrupted her and said that I remember when my dad died, we did not…(you fill in the blank).
I could have said to her as we were walking away: Be happy you had her so long and she was a good mother, rest assured that she is now in a better place.
Who do you think that would have helped? Not her for sure. But I would have felt so much better.
My point is that grieves are dying to talk and tell their stories of pain and brokenness. But we feel this urge to fix them right there on the spot with words that don’t help.
We are also in a time in our lives when we feel that fewer words are better. With social media, texting and more and more communication taking place over email, we as a society are becoming comfortable with shallow words
- Hang in there
- This too shall pass
- She is in a better place
Friends, words matter. Words can make a huge difference in the life of a griever. And the absence of words will work too. What do I mean by this, you ask?
While I was listening to my friend, I did not share any words of wisdom. I just listened because she needed to be heard at that moment. After that, we said goodbye and I left.
When we got to the car, I sent her a text. Thank you for sharing that story about your mother with me. She was a great lady. I miss seeing he around town. My heart was sad as I drove away. I can’t imagine how much you miss her.
There is no deep lesson here in the fact that I texted her. It’s just that we were both in a hurry and it was 120 degrees outside.
I wanted to acknowledge her pain and use my words to let her know that I heard her story, let her know that I see her as a griever.
- You don’t have to say something
- But if you choose to speak, speak from your heart
- Don’t try to fix them. They are not broken.
- Always tell the truth about how you are feeling
- Its ok to listen to the griever
Finally, sometimes the griever will just give you a short answer: Things could be better.
Do yourself and them a favor and ask a follow-up question: How could things be better?
This opens the door to a genuine conversation. You never know what may come from a truly honest communication. Just be real. No matter what you expect from them, know that there is power in your words.
~Sharon and Erica