This may seem like an odd post for my education blog, and I was going to post it on my personal blog, but then I decided that actually it does belong here. This isn’t taught in schools…but it should be!
As many of you know, I lost my mom recently. “I just don’t know what to say,” one of my friends told me, giving me a hug. Well you know what? It’s ok to admit that you don’t have the words – I’m living through it and I don’t really have the words either – but by saying that you don’t know what to say, you are telling me that you know I’m hurting and that you wish you could do something about it. In other words, you are saying that you care.
There are no magic words to make everything ok, but there are some which will bring some comfort, and others which, however well-meaning they were intended to be, will make the person feel worse. So if you want to know what to say, or what not to say, next time you are in this situation – read on.
What to say
- I’m sorry for your loss
If you don’t know the person who died, then a simple acknowledgment is fine.
- I’ll always remember the time when…
One friend from Malaysia told me she’d always remember my mom making her a blancmange because she’d never tried one. It’s really meant a lot to me when people have shared their own memories of my mom and it’s comforting to know that she will live on in the memories of other people whose lives she has touched.
- What are you doing on Monday evening? You put the kettle on and I’ll bring the cake.
I’ve lost my mom, my best friend, and I’m feeling lonely. I’m not feeling up to picking the phone up myself, so you taking the initiative to arrange coming round to keep me company is really appreciated.
- I’ve brought a casserole round. Where do you keep your plates?
I know I need to eat, but it’s not something I’ve been able to think about so someone just putting food in front of me has been a huge help.
One of my friends called me, and we spent about 15 minutes just crying down the phone to each other before hanging up. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t speak. I know that she cared enough to call, and she cared enough to cry for me. Some people have just given me a hug, or squeezed my shoulder before carrying on their way, and I know. I know that even though they don’t have the words, they are telling me that they care.
What not to say
- Oh well never mind. You’ll feel better soon.
Yes, I’ve really had this one. Funnily enough I do mind, and I hope I do feel better soon, because right now I’m feeling worse.
- You’ll never get over it, you know. You’ll always miss her and you’ll never be able to remember the happy times because it will always be too painful.
Yes, I’ve really had this one as well. It made me cry. A lot.
- I know how you feel
No. You don’t know. You have no idea how I feel. My relationship with my mom was special and unique, and nobody else in the world has ever felt this way before. Maybe you’ve lost your own mom, but your relationship with her was unique and special and nobody else will ever know you felt. My brother and I have lost the same mom, but that doesn’t mean that we miss her in the same way.
- I lost my mom/dad/gran/hamster last year
I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m struggling to cope with my own grief at the moment, so if I don’t know you well enough to know already that you have lost someone then I’m going to struggle to scrape together the strength to support you through yours.
- What did she die of?
Why are you asking me this? It doesn’t matter why she died. It just matters that she did and I wish she hadn’t.
- You know where I am. Phone me if you need me
That’s kind of you, and I know you mean well, but at the moment I’m incapable of thinking about what I need and even if I could I don’t have the energy to pick up the phone. Much better just to give me a date and time to expect you round.
- My parents are really old. I’ll probably lose them in the next few years.
So, let me get this straight. I tell you that I’m upset because my mom has died and you respond by telling me that you still have yours. Well, then stop this conversation now. If you think you will lose them soon, go and spend time with your family and make sure they know you love them. If you have nothing comforting to say to me, then leave me in peace.
Bereavement isn’t catching. Just because I’ve lost someone I love doesn’t mean that you will if you stop to speak to me. I’m feeling really lonely and isolated right now, so please don’t break eye-contact and walk away, pretending you haven’t seen me. Take a deep breath, choose something – anything – from the first list and let me know that you care.
7th March 2015 update
A few days ago my husband showed me a link to a post written not long after mine, on a similar theme. If you found this post useful, you may also like to read this Huffington Post article on helping someone who is grieving.